As Extreme on Abortion as Ever

Don’t Be Fooled: Republicans Are Still as Extreme on Abortion as Ever

By Zoë Carpenter  The Nation  January 22, 2015

bc A group of Republican men took to the House floor on Wednesday evening and delivered emotional speeches about the need to restrict women’s right to abortion. “A deeply personal issue,” Utah representative Chris Smith noted without a trace of irony, before musing on the pleasures of being a grandfather. Ted Yoho of Florida likened fetuses to an endangered species. “How can we as a nation have laws that protect the sea turtle or bald eagle, but yet refuse to protect the same of our own species?” he asked.

Their speeches anticipated a vote on the so-called Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban most abortions after twenty weeks of pregnancy. Originally scheduled for Thursday, the vote has now been indefinitely “delayed” because the bill, it turns out, was too extreme even for some members of the GOP. A number of female members objected to a provision that would have exempted rape victims from the ban only after they reported to police. Dissent grew throughout the week, and with as many as two-dozen Republicans ready to vote against the bill by late Wednesday, leaders pulled the whole thing.

Oh, well. Republicans immediately found another piece of bad meat to throw the mass of anti-abortion protestors who descended on Washington on Thursday for the annual March for Life: the No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act Titled just as misleadingly as the “Pain-Capable” legislation, this bill would have the most damaging effects in the private insurance marketplace, as Medicaid and other publicly funded programs are already barred from covering abortion services. House Republicans passed that legislation Thursday afternoon, as the anti-choice chants echoed across Capitol Hill.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, the bill “could result in the entire private insurance market dropping abortion coverage, thereby making such coverage unavailable to anyone.” It would permanently codify bans on abortion coverage for federal employees, residents of the District of Columbia, female inmates, women insured through the Indian Health Service, and women covered by Medicaid. It would also raise taxes on most small businesses.

The pivot was pure pandering. Representative Trent Franks, who introduced the twenty week ban along with Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn, had noted previously that the vote was scheduled for the same day at the March for Life because of the “symbolism.” Many of the members who spoke on Wednesday in support of the ban gave more attention to promoting the march than to bill itself. “This week, the defenders of life in the thousands have and will come to Washington DC to support the sanctity of life,” said New Jersey Representative Chris Smith. “I want them to know we will keep fighting to defend the silent, unborn child.”

While reproductive rights groups received the failure of the twenty-week ban with glee, they quickly condemned the scramble to find a substitute bill. “Today’s exercise in the House is not about making public policy, nor is it about helping American women and families. It is about catering to a small minority of voters—anti-abortion activists who are descending on Washington for their annual march,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America President (and Nation contributor) Ilyse Hogue in a statement released Thursday.

It’s tempting to probe the political significance of a few female Republicans having the will, and enough muscle, to scuttle a bill that passed the House in similar form just two years ago. Maybe this one instance in which GOP leaders resisted the far-right fringe signals they’re finally waking up to the conclusion, encapsulated in the 2012 election post-mortem, that the party’s long-term success depends on women and minorities. And maybe not. (Call me when the House takes up immigration reform.)

But don’t overestimate the practical significance. Republicans are increasingly policing their optics and broadening their rhetoric—read Ran Paul’s rebuttal to the State of the Union for some silver tongue work concerning poverty, for example—but they are not ending their siege of legal abortion at the federal level or in the states, where the worst damage is being done. This would not be the first time that a high-level Republican chose not to highlight their extreme anti-woman principles and yet stuck to them. The twenty-week ban is likely to come up again this year, and it would be a dangerous bill even with a broader exception for rape victims. And out of the shadow of the March for Life, a vote will still be merely symbolic, as it’s unlikely to get through the Senate or to cross the president’s desk without a veto.

Rape’s Horrible Inhumanity

 The Brutal Inhumanity of Rape

[Excerpt Below] 12.18.14 Published by The Washington Post

It should never be too late to tell your story of rape. 14 years later, this is mine.

By Abigail Hauslohner

As this newspaper’s Cairo bureau chief, I live and work with the risk of sexual violence all around me. I’ve covered war and political turmoil in the Middle East for the past seven years, spending five of those in Cairo, where sexual harassment is an almost daily experience. When I was groped amid a crowd of protesters battling police outside Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque on the fourth day of the uprising in 2011, I turned around and punched the guy in the face.

My friends tell me I’m “tough.” But it wasn’t until I completed an intensive course of therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder in October that I was able to finally confront pain I’ve been carrying with me for 14 years. I had gone to see a PTSD therapist to seek relief from what I’ve witnessed and experienced as a Middle East and war correspondent, to deal with the fear that had taken over my dreams and had begun to affect my work. I wanted to be able to react calmly to loud noises — instead of sensing an explosion every time a door slammed or a car backfired.

But we also ended up spending a lot of time dealing with an earlier experience that had nothing to do with the Middle East and yet almost outranked my war experiences: one night in 2001, when, as a 17-year-old, I visited a friend at his college and he raped me.

Until stories broke about rape accusations against Bill Cosby and an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, I had generally avoided reading about rape. I avoided reporting on it, too — as much as that pains me to admit. When I tried to write about Egypt’s sexual assault problem two years ago, I had great reporting and great timing — it was Valentine’s Day, also a day of anti-rape activism. I knew it was an important story and I wanted to put it out there, but I couldn’t do it.

My experience in therapy helped unburden me of the shame that I have carried since I was a teenager and prompted me to speak out now. I’ve found inspiration in the willingness of rape survivors to talk about their assaults, years or decades after the fact. I decided it was time for me to do the same. It should never be too late.

Nearly 14 years ago, I went to visit my friend — I’ll call him “X” — at his college campus. I saw X as a goofy but caring, older-brother type; we’d overlapped in high school and had a platonic and confiding sort of friendship. I never found him attractive.

When X went to college, he joined a fraternity and promised to take me to a real college party. My parents, who were fairly strict and usually would not have let me spend a weekend visiting a boy on a college campus, let me go because X was a friend. I packed my coolest top — a bright pink, sleeveless turtleneck sweater — a pair of Guess jeans and a new necklace that I loved.

The party was hosted by X’s fraternity. I remember walking into a relatively empty house and settling in nervously on a couch. Most of the people in the room were guys, and I was eager to seem cool. X asked if I wanted a drink; I said sure. He brought me a big plastic cup full of red punch.

The rest of that night I remember in flashes of images and sound. I can’t remember anything between sitting on the couch and drinking from that cup, and then being propped up in the back seat of a car that wasn’t X’s, with someone else driving someplace. I think I lost consciousness somewhere between the couch and the car.

[See full story]

Smart, Successful Transgender Martine Rothblatt

A Visionary Transgendered Person Guided by Love

Smart, Successful Transgender Martine Rothblatt

Love night, love night, love is all around
love night, love night, here love can be found

[SWP Note: This is one of the most inspiring stories of 2014. In a world of so much discrimination and violence against the LGBT community, a highly successful and smart transgender woman who seems to have done many things out of love.

Below are excerpts of a Washington Post Magazine article. See full article]

Martine Rothblatt founded SiriusXM, a religion and a biotech. For starters.

Martine Rothblatt founded SiriusXM, a religion and a biotech. For starters.


By Neely Tucker  December 12, 2014 Washington Post Magazine

Let’s be clear: Martine Rothblatt is just plain more of a lawyer than anybody else in this town.

The 60-year-old grandmother and CEO of United Therapeutics, the Silver Spring-based biotech she founded to help save her younger daughter’s life, banked $38 million last year. It made her the nation’s highest-paid female executive. It also made her the nation’s highest-paid transgendered person, as she had sex reassignment surgery in 1994.

In a lab on Spring Street, Rothblatt’s newest project appears lifted from science fiction: disembodied but breathing human lungs, hissing away in dome-shaped incubators, part of a clinical trial attempting to mend donated but not-quite-accepted-for-transplant lungs so that they can actually be placed in living human beings.

On a Virginia farm, she’s also raising genetically altered pigs, in the hope that someday their lungs (and other organs) will be modified for use in human transplant, creating a nearly inexhaustible supply of organ donors.

She just published “Virtually Human,” a big-think manifesto on the rights of yet-to-be-created cyber-humans, who might one day be uploaded with all of your thoughts, dreams, memories and online activity and live for eternity as a sort-of you.


Rothblatt is buddies with Larry Page and Ray Kurzweil, who sort of run a little company called Google. Kurzweil, the futurist and director of engineering at Google, is on United Therapeutics’ board of directors and thinks Bina48 is a glimpse of the future.

In the late 1980s, Rothblatt conceived of and created a crazy company devoted to the idea of worldwide satellite radio. Today that’s Sirius XM. It’s in your car’s dashboard, next to the satellite navigation device … and she was president of Geostar, the first company to market that, too. Her college thesis became the first private satellite phone company.

“She has to my knowledge a perfect track record in making [her] visions real,” Kurzweil writes in an e-mail.

Bina and Martine Rothblatt with daughter Jenesis, whose illness inspired the founding of United Therapeutics. (Photo courtesy of Jenesis Rothblatt/for The Washington Post)

Bina and Martine Rothblatt with daughter Jenesis, whose illness inspired the founding of United Therapeutics. (Photo courtesy of Jenesis Rothblatt/for The Washington Post)

Rothblatt dropped out of the satellite orbit because her and Bina’s daughter was diagnosed at 5 with what is now called pulmonary arterial hypertension, an incurable lung disease. It progressively narrows the lung’s arteries to the point of death. By 12, Jenesis would faint all the time, her life seeping away in intensive care units.

So Rothblatt sold out of Sirius, set to studying biology — the last such course she had taken was in 10th grade — and formed U.T.

Today, Jenesis is 30, in good health and does film-production work for the now-$6 billion firm. Martine led the company to developing a new FDA-approved pill for pulmonary arterial hypertension, Orenitram (“Martine Ro,” backward). The stock price soared, and so did her incentive package.


Amid all this, Martine and Bina have been married for 32 years, before and after Rothblatt’s gender surgery. They’re so joined at the hip that the kids refer to them as “Marbina.” Their younger son, Gabriel, just ran for Congress in Florida’s Eighth District (Democrat, lost, but a respectable debut). When Rothblatt set up a $225,000 super PAC to fund Gabriel’s campaign — without his knowledge, he says — she drew a rebuke from the New York Times editorial page for parental abuse of electoral process.

Let’s see … what else? She flies airplanes. And helicopters. Kills on the piano. Runs half-triathlons. Has several houses and apartments and says she hasn’t stayed in one place more than a month in 20 years. During September and October, she and Bina touched down in Greece, Crete, Washington, Los Angeles, Bora Bora, back to Silver Spring, took the grandkids trick-or-treating in Melbourne Beach, Fla., while Gabriel was out campaigning, then flew to London and popped back to D.C.


Marty enrolled in UCLA but quit after a year to travel on the cheap with buddies. Van rides across Europe, selling the van in Turkey, teaching English in Iran, touring eastern Africa … wound up living in a ratty house in the Seychelles Islands, which was supposed to be cool. It wasn’t.

While there, a buddy took Rothblatt to a U.S. satellite installation. There — right there — is where she says her mind took an exponential leap forward, imagining how close future worlds really were.

Marty went back to UCLA with a wild new energy and a family in tow. The marriage to a Kenyan woman soon collapsed, but Marty raised their son Eli on his own. Father and son lived in dire, if self-imposed, poverty while dad spent seven years going through undergrad, law and the MBA programs.

“Martine wanted to do things on her own,” her mom remembers.

“Literally the starving student,” remembers Paul Rosenthal, then chairman of the communications school. “I remember her wearing one checked shirt and pair of jeans every day. It may have been all she had.”

Charlie Firestone remembers Marty clearly — “the most brilliant student I had in 13 years of teaching at UCLA law school. … Just a fascinating mind.”
It was 1979 when Marty met Bina, a real estate agent, at a mixer in Hollywood. The two shared an instant attraction and mutual life circumstances: Bina was a single parent, too, of a young daughter named Sunee.

They soon married, moved to D.C., cross-adopted Eli and Sunee and eventually had Gabriel and Jenesis.
By the mid-1980s, Rothblatt was getting a reputation among the space law cognoscenti for brilliance and knowledge of FCC regulations and of the intricacies of broadcasting wavelengths.

“A conceptual genius,” says Tobey Marzouk, partner at Marzouk & Parry, who was legal partners with Rothblatt in the 1980s. “Her ideas were quantum leaps of the technology at the time.”

Rothblatt was hired as a lobbyist for a fledgling concern called Geostar, initially a satellite tracking service for trucking companies.

Rothblatt worked insane hours — going to the office about 2 a.m. for a day’s research and planning before the doors opened seven hours later — but the family was tightknit. Bina had converted to Judaism and often worked as his de facto office manager. Bina’s mom, who had moved in with them, watched the kids.

On Friday evenings, they would have “love night” at home. It began with a family song:

Love night, love night, love is all around
love night, love night, here love can be found
family is our source of our strength
forever we are one and the same
love night, love night, love is all around

“That was at the dinner table,” says Gabriel Rothblatt, 32, now a father of four and living in Melbourne Beach. “We’d all have dinner or go out to dinner, sitting around the table, bless the bread and light the candles. We’d go from oldest to youngest and everyone say what love meant to them this week. It was an opportunity for everybody to speak while everyone else is quiet, but it was also a session to reflect on the meaning of love during the previous week and how it affected you.”

By the early 1990s, Rothblatt had founded CD Satellite Radio, a forerunner of satellite worldwide radio, then changed the name to Sirius, for the brightest star in the sky. Rothblatt came out first to Bina, announcing an affinity for wearing dresses, and Bina said it was no big deal. The kids were not exactly thrilled — some friends stopped coming over, some people stared at Martin in a dress — but they told the kids not to worry. Martine was always going to be their dad, Bina was always going to be their mom, and stupid people were always going to be stupid.

The gender switch led to Martine’s first manifesto-type book, “The Apartheid of Sex.” It argued that people come in vast ranges of sexualities and that two genders simply could not describe the reality.

The book got a $100,000 publishing contract. Sirius went to its IPO. Rothblatt earned millions.

She was 40 years old.


“Last night one fewer person died on the transplant list,” she wrote, exultant. “I feel confident that we’ll at minimum double # of transplants by end of 20teens.”
Roll your eyes? Sure, go ahead.

Then go back up, near the beginning of this story, and, when betting against the future, reread the handicapping of Ray Kurzweil, generally regarded as one of the planet’s great minds, about the track record of Martine Rothblatt.

Neely Tucker is a Washington Post Magazine staff writer.

Those Making It Much Harder To Get An Abortion

Inside The Highly Sophisticated Group That’s Quietly Making It Much Harder To Get An Abortion

by Erica Hellerstein  December 2, 2014  Think Progress

AUL On a mild afternoon last April, Randy Grau, a Republican representative from Edmond Oklahoma, took to the state House to argue in favor of Senate Bill 1848. The bill, later signed into law, regulates standards for abortion centers and requires abortion providers to obtain nearby hospital admitting privileges. Clad in a crisp white dress shirt and light blue tie, Grau, a co-sponsor of the bill, turned to his peers and inhaled sharply: “On an unassuming street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, tucked in among houses, churches, little shops, right next to an elementary school, a building went by the name of the women’s medical society. Inside that women’s medical society, run by Dr. Kermit Gosnell, could only be described as a house of horrors.” He paused and cast his eyes to the floor before cataloging the conditions at Gosnell’s now-notorious Philadelphia abortion clinic: dirty equipment, blood-splattered floors, and untrained staff administering anesthetics.

“This bill will ensure that there’s proper standards and training of the staff that are helping perform these procedures,” the clean-cut young representative continued. “Does it prevent more abortions? I dunno. But I’ll tell you what I think it will do. It will ensure that none of these clinics prey upon women that are in a vulnerable and miserable position.”

To the outside observer, Grau’s position — pushing for regulatory standards he claimed were necessary to protect women’s health — might have seemed reasonable. But as the debate ensued, legislators from both sides of the political spectrum voiced their concerns. Some cited the Oklahoma State Medical Association’s opposition of the bill, which in a letter to the state senate insisted that it “may not reflect medical science or the best interest of the patient.” Others, like Republican Doug Cox, firmly rejected Grau’s argument that the proposed legislation would shield its intended constituents from harm. When pressed “How does this make life easier for patients?” by another House member, Cox, a physician who ultimately voted nay on SB 1848, replied, in a rare moment of candor that contradicted the party line: “Well, I’m not sure that it does.”

To the pro-choice advocates closely tracking the rash of anti-abortion bills introduced at the state level, however, Grau’s bill looked eerily familiar. His charges — that SB 1848’s abortion restrictions (also known as Targeted Regulations on Abortion Providers, or TRAP, laws), were being introduced to safeguard women’s health — had all been seen before. The language in the bill was strikingly similar to “The Abortion Providers’ Privileging Act,” a piece of model legislation introduced by Americans United for Life (AUL), a Washington-based anti-abortion organization that pens and propagates model legislation through ties with conservative legislators. In fact, a ThinkProgress examination found that parts of Grau’s bill were essentially written by AUL; the two are so comparable that in the section of SB 1848 outlining admitting privileges for abortion providers, only ten words from the AUL version are not used. (Oklahoma’s bill, for example, replaces “abortion clinic” with “facility providing abortions,” and “accredited hospital” with “general medical surgical hospital.”)

Not unlike the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), AUL functions as de facto legislation mill for like-minded politicians and on-the-ground anti-abortion activist groups — offering model legislation that, according to its website, “enables legislators to easily introduce bills without needing to research and write the bills themselves.” The organization operates in relative obscurity despite its exceptionally far reach. According to an email obtained by ThinkProgress that was sent to AUL supporters, the group is responsible for one third (74) of the 200-plus anti-abortion laws that have passed since 2010. Elizabeth Nash, a Public Policy Associate at the Guttmacher Institute, says that 231 abortion restrictions were enacted between 2011 and 2014, which is nearly 20 percent more than what was seen in the entire decade before.

One such AUL-inspired law is Texas’s notorious House Bill Two (HB2), which has shuttered clinics and pushed women into the black market to buy abortion-inducing drugs. HB2, signed into law by AUL ally Rick Perry in 2013, belongs to a family of anti-abortion legislation called TRAP laws, which place burdensome restrictions on abortion centers and providers. These regulations, which have risen in popularity since 2010, have also found their way into AUL model legislation: A ThinkProgress examination found a handful of state TRAP bills that used AUL language in 2014 alone — Arizona, Illinois, New Hampshire, and West Virginia, for example, copied and pasted nearly every word of AUL’s admitting privileges requirement into their proposed legislation.

Despite medical evidence to the contrary, AUL’s role in shifting the abortion debate to a “death by 1000 cuts” strategy has proven effective. AUL employs a strategic brand of messaging that differentiates it from the openly religious fire-and-brimstone anti-abortion groups of the past. The organization packages its agenda with intentionally soft language about protecting women’s health, which some say has helped the group maintain a relatively low profile in spite of the scope of its influence. “The semantics display a retreat from extremism,” says Carol Joffe, a professor at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco. “One could argue they won by defanging the war on women.”

AUL’s Successful Anti-Abortion Campaign By The Numbers

That Grau’s bill so blatantly overlapped with AUL’s was no surprise to Hayley Smith, an Advocacy and Policy Associate at the ACLU who tracks anti-abortion state policy. “If you look at it, word for word, there are small differences but it is nearly the same. You can put them side-by-side, and even where they put the parenthesis is nearly exact. So it’s clear that there was copy and paste into bill form and insert Oklahoma, and it’s coming from someplace outside of Oklahoma, because the language is so similar.” Smith elaborated: “When you see a bill introduced in one state, and then you see a bill introduced across the country, and the language looks nearly exactly the same, you realize: Oh, this is all coming from the same base” — Americans United for Life — “and the intent is the same underlying each.”

In 2014, AUL consulted with legislators on 74 anti-abortion measures in 32 states, and was the driving force behind 11 anti-abortion laws; providing model legislation for states in Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. In 2013, it was behind 16 anti-abortion bills and worked in 31 states; in 2011, AUL consulted on and provided model language for 28 state laws. The annual AUL report in 2013 found that 35 states “made progress in defending life” in 2013, and in 2012 AUL was the driving force behind 19 anti-abortion laws.

An analysis by ThinkProgress reveals at least 13 bills that have been introduced on the state level have used language that is similar to AUL’s admitting privileges provisions, which have dealt a blow to abortion clinics across the country. SB 1848, for example, co-sponsored by Grau and signed into law by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin (R) last May, was recently put on hold after the Center for Reproductive Rights filed an emergency appeal with the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Grau has been vocal about his relationship with AUL in the past. In 2011, he co-sponsored HB 1970, a bill drafted with AUL requiring abortion providers to follow the Food and Drug Administration’s outdated guidelines for medication abortions; in 2013, he co-sponsored HB 1361, a parental notification law based on AUL model legislation; and in 2014, he co-sponsored HB 2684, a follow-up to AUL-sponsored HB 1970.

The Oklahoma representative’s rhetorical strategy on the House floor is similar to AUL’s. The organization doesn’t deal in bullets and blood-soaked posters. Instead, it wraps its anti-abortion agenda in language about protecting women’s health — an emphasis on the mother rather than on the fetus — which, though not based on any real medical need or data, has proven to be remarkably effective.

“They’re trying to position themselves as these defenders of women’s health and safety,” says Amanda Allen, State Legislative Counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “But these are measures that are coming from a national anti-abortion advocacy group that are really designed to close clinics in the state, under the bogus claim that they would protect women’s health and safety.”

The success of AUL’s framing can be traced back to its dynamic President and CEO, Charmaine Yoest, formerly of Mike Huckabee’s failed presidential campaign and The Family Research Council (deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center). A soft-spoken mother of five with a polished brown bob, Yoest distances AUL from the anti-abortion community’s militant ideologues: She has been profiled across the media for her warm, subtle approach, dubbed “charismatic,” “especially good at sounding reasonable rather than extreme,” and the movement’s “kinder, gentler face.” But it is much more calculated than that. In a 2011 interview with The National Catholic Register, Yoest equated the organization’s approach to a “military strategy. We don’t make frontal attacks. Never attack where the enemy is strongest. We don’t want to re-create Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. We pick our battles. What we do is very much under the radar screen and not very sexy.”

The ALEC Of Abortion

AUL, founded in 1971 by conservative Catholic L. Brent Bozell, is often described as the primary legal arm of the anti-abortion movement. Its goal is to make abortion inaccessible through an approach many call “incrementalism” — blanketing the country in laws and court cases that choke abortion access at the state level — which contrasts an all-or-nothing absolutist strategy pushing to ban abortion outright. Regardless of their tactics, though, AUL and other anti-abortion advocates all have the same end goal: to abolish abortion in the United States. (From the organization’s website: “AUL knows that reversing Roe v. Wade can be accomplished through deliberate, legal strategies that accumulate victories, build momentum, and restore a culture of life.”)

The group has gotten a huge monetary boost from right-wing allies. In 2010, AUL’s legal arm, Americans United for Life Action, received $559,000 from the Center to Protect Patient Rights, a secretive non-profit group linked to the Koch Brothers that has injected nearly two hundred million dollars to in undisclosed donations to right-wing advocacy groups since 2009.

AUL’s Koch connection and collaboration with anti-abortion legislators to pass model legislation has prompted comparison to another bill mill that has come under fire from watchdog organizations: “They are the ALEC of the anti-abortion movement,” says Donna Crane, the Policy Director at NARAL Pro-Choice America. “If you think these ideas to restrict abortion are spontaneously coming to the hearts and mind of legislators across the country, think again. It’s all part of a very coordinated effort state-by-state to deny women their rights.”

The two groups have a symbiotic relationship. According to Wisconsin Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison), AUL has been spotted at a series of ALEC conferences and policy summits, where it hands out copies of model legislation plucked from its crowning glory, a 400-plus-page book of anti-abortion sample bills called “Defending Life.” Rick Perry, who signed Texas’s AUL-inspired HB2 in 2013, penned the book’s introduction: “AUL plays a key role in developing and promoting legislation in all 50 states, legislation crafted to minimize the damage done by the abortion industry and its proponents,” he gushes.

Perry should know about the impacts of abortion restrictions. Last March, a group gathered outside the Whole Woman’s Health Clinic in McAllen, Texas, mourning the closure of the Rio Grande Valley’s last abortion clinic with a candlelight vigil. The clinic (which has since reopened temporarily) was barred from providing abortions after HB2, Texas’s omnibus abortion bill, went into effect.

For Women’s Health?

The Texas law, among other things, requires abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges at clinics within 30 miles of where they practice and mandates that abortion clinics comply with ambulatory surgical center requirements. It has fallen heavily on the shoulders of low-income and undocumented women, many of whom can’t afford to travel across hundreds of miles and through internal border checkpoints to the nearest abortion clinic. Despite evidence that the restrictions will negatively impact Texas women’s health (forcing them into later term abortions which run a higher risk of complication) AUL has publicly claimed responsibility for the law.

Daniel Grossman, a gynecologist and Vice President of research at Ibis Reproductive Health, analyzed the impact of HB2 with the Texas Policy Evaluation Project. He says that the law will likely lead to an increase in DIY, or do-it-yourself, abortions. “We’re definitely seeing that women are attempting to self-induce abortions. They’re using herbs, medications, injections sometimes they get in Mexico, as well as hitting themselves in the stomach and throwing themselves down the stairs.”

Though unsupervised self-induced abortions carry significant risks, legal abortion is one of the safest medical procedures in the United States: A woman is 14 times more likely to die from giving childbirth than getting an abortion. More than 90 percent of abortions in the United States are performed in an outpatient setting, and less than .3 percent of abortion patients in the U.S. experience complications requiring hospitalization. In fact, surgical abortion has a complication rate comparable to other routine procedures performed in a doctor’s office, like dental extractions, vasectomies, endometrial biopsies and gastrointestinal endoscopies. On the rare occasion that an abortion-related complication does arise prior to 16 weeks of pregnancy, it can almost always be safely managed in an outpatient clinic.

From 2000-2009, the abortion-related mortality rate in the United States was 0.7 per 100,000 abortions — which was lower than the mortality rate for plastic and dental procedures. During the same time period, the mortality risk for abortion was equal to the traffic and marathon fatality rate in the US. The mortality rate for RAGBRAI bike racing is more than four times the abortion mortality rate, and, according to CDC data, the risk of death from a penicillin injection is twice that of abortion.

“But you don’t see any moves to make a penicillin shot only given in an ambulatory surgical center,” says David Grimes, a Clinical Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. In North Carolina, he added, more people die in dentists’ chairs than in abortion clinics, but politicians are mum on TRAP-inspired dentistry regulations. “This clearly shows the state legislatures not being concerned about safety. There are all these public health problems they’re ignoring. They’re attacking one of the safest procedures in medicine because they don’t like it.”

AUL’s Chosen Facts

Like the big tobacco and climate denial industry, a crucial link in the legislation of anti-abortion measures is the establishment of an alternative set of scientific literature — unencumbered by the rules of evidence and standards of truth that define legitimate medical science — and insistence that data published by organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO), is inaccurate.

AUL has actively participated in this process. Like many anti-abortion organizations pushing TRAP laws, it rejects research from physicians about the impact of clinic and provider restrictions, and instead refers to internal “medical experts.” AUL’s Senior Counsel, Clarke Forsythe, for example, authored a paper called “A Fact Ignored by the WHO” with John Thorp, a North Carolina-based gynecologist whose testimonies have been used to defend admitting privileges laws. AUL’s model legislation cites research by Thorp, who served as a witness in anti-abortion cases in Alabama. Alaska, Arizona, Indiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin, and was recently discredited by a federal judge in Alabama’s admitting privilege litigation for having “disturbing apathy toward the accuracy of his testimony.” The organization’s use of Thorp’s research “shows that they’re not grounded in science and medicine and women’s health, says Smith of the ACLU. “They’re grounded in politics and bias.”

AUL’s model legislation also cites anti-abortion advocate David Reardon’s research. Reardon received a degree in biomedical ethics from Pacific Western University in Hawaii, an unaccredited diploma mill that was shut down in 2006 and forced to pay half a million dollars in fines. Reardon’s theory that abortion causes clinical mental problems has been rejected by C. Everett Koop, Ronald Reagan’s Surgeon General and the American Psychological Association, and his research has been widely criticized by the British Journal of Psychology, and critiqued by UC Santa Barbara psychology faculty, to name a few.

Similarly, AUL routinely refers to Charmaine Yoest as a “Dr” — but she does not have any medical expertise. Instead, she holds a Ph.D. in philosophy of government from the University of Virginia. In fact, there appears to be just one M.D. on AUL’s Board of Directors and Board of Advisors combined — Dr. Monique V. Chireau. Her claim, that abortion causes mental health issues, has been refuted by the American Psychological Association; and in a July 2014 testimony against the Women’s Health Protection Act, Chireau cited research that has been challenged by the British Journal of Psychiatry for failing “to state obvious conflicts of interests and follow well-accepted scientific standards for the conduct and reporting of systematic reviews and meta-analyses.”

Because Chireau appears to be the only doctor on AUL’s staff, Board of Advisors, and Board of Directors, ThinkProgress contacted AUL for comment on the number of physicians that work with AUL to draft model legislation. A spokesperson from the organization replied in an email: “I don’t know that numbers of physicians per model bill is a rubric available,” adding that, “AUL talks with a wide network of specialist (sic) to ensure the best possible product.”

An Effective Strategy With Political Backing

However, medical experts find AUL’s abortion provisions troublesome. ThinkProgress reviewed sections seven and eight of AUL’s “Women’s Health Protection Act” with Grimes, who flagged more than 20 of the organization’s suggested administrative rules for abortion clinics. These included: rules requiring private procedure rooms for abortion clinic’s physical facilities; rules related to medical screening of abortion patients; rules requiring standards that conform to obstetric standards; rules outlining the use of appropriate precautions, including the establishment of intravenous access for patients undergoing second or third trimester abortions, and many more.

ThinkProgress also asked AUL for comment on objections from physicians that HB2’s provisions have crippled women’s access to reproductive services and haven’t impacted the safety of abortion in the state. “Abortion advocates routinely oppose health and safety standards for women,” AUL responded. “However, no case more clearly illustrates the need for them as the ‘ House of Horrors’ abortion clinic that was operated by Dr. Kermit Gosnell. It is appalling that women receive one standard of care for a breast biopsy but are left to the tender mercies of whatever an abortionist want to offer when the surgery is abortion.” However, Gosnell’s medical failures were already contrary to existing health care standards. What he did — performing abortions after 24 weeks, snipping babies’ necks, utilizing unlicensed employees — was illegal already and has no connection to the restrictions placed by AUL’s legislation.

The wave of abortion restrictions can be traced back to the results of the 2010 elections, which welcomed a new wave of Tea Party anti-choice Republican legislators. “Part of it is the coming together of conservative legislators and local organizations and model legislation at the right time,” she says. “The legislators wouldn’t be able to adopt these restrictions if the ideas weren’t available and there weren’t organizations on the ground willing to pursue them. You need all three pieces for it to work. It’s crazy.”

AUL’s admitting privileges and clinic standards requirements are both TRAP laws, which have been stunningly effective at shutting down abortion access on the state level. In the past decade, the number of states with TRAP restrictions has more than doubled: 27 states now have some type of TRAP law (up from 11 in 2000), and nearly 60 percent of women in the country of reproductive age now live in states with TRAP laws. As of this November, 22 states require that abortion clinics meet ambulatory surgical center requirements, and 14 require abortion providers to have admitting privileges (or an agreement with another physician who has admitting privileges) at a local hospital.

TRAP laws are designed to make as difficult as possible for women to access legal abortion services even though the procedure is still federally protected. They are dangerous precisely because they’re meant to sound reasonable, says Susan Berke Fogel, the Director of Reproductive Health at the National Health Law Program. “How many people really understand what it means to have hospital admitting privileges? Most people think, ‘that’s a very standard thing,’ and if a doctor has admitting privileges that that is somehow a mark of professionalism. Instead, it’s very common for doctors not to have admitting privileges at any particular hospital.”

Other TRAP restrictions — like hallway width and doorway requirements — are also medically unnecessary, says Grimes. “When I was at the CDC one of my jobs was to study every abortion-related death in the country, and I can say with certainty that there’s never been a woman who died in the US from an inadequate doorway in an abortion clinic. This is really a perversion of public health practice. The way public health works is that you identify a problem, you develop a solution, you implement the solution, and you monitor the effect. What you’re seeing is a brisk legislative response to a non-problem. “

‘Dry Sex’ Is the African Sexual Health Issue No One’s Talking About

‘Dry Sex’ Is the African Sexual Health Issue No One’s Talking About
December 2, 2014

By Wendy Syfret  Vice

drysexafrica I first heard about “dry sex” when one of my friends returned from Malawi, where she was doing work with women and cervical cancer screenings. Dry sex, she told me, is the practice of reducing moisture in your vagina in order to seem tighter and cause more friction during intercourse. This is believed to be more pleasurable for the person with the penis, but for the women involved, it’s incredibly painful. It’s an idea linked to the perception that a tight vagina is one that hasn’t been stretched out by overuse, which speaks to the low level of sexual education in the region.

It gets worse. To achieve dryness, some women insert chalk, sand, pulverized rock, herbs, paper, or sponges before sex. Douching with caustic liquids such as detergents, antiseptics, alcohol, and bleach is also common. The use of these substances, in combination with un-lubricated penetrative sex, can lead to vaginal abrasions and increased condom breakage—which compounds the spread of HIV.

Looking into the trend, I found that information was thin. Most of the studies I did find were more than a decade old. The impression was that the issue was endemic, but hard figures were few and far between. For all the efforts put into HIV awareness and prevention campaigns in this part of Africa, none seemed to address dry sex or its role in the spread of the disease.

After much searching I found Dr. Marlene Wasserman, popularly know as Dr. Eve in South Africa. She’s a sexual health clinician, advocate, and host of a radio program on which she attempts to dispel the country’s rampant misinformation around sexual health. She believes that the silence around the issue isn’t due just to ignorance but also to a massive hole in sexual education relating to pleasure equality and women’s rights.

VICE: Why aren’t people talking about dry sex?

Dr. Eve: There’s on-again, off-again discussion around it, but you’re right. There isn’t enough. It hasn’t got attention from the government to that level where policies are being put in place.

And it’s because it’s about vaginas—it’s way too real to talk about. We can talk about penises and circumcision, which we do all the time, and the government puts policies into place. But dare we talk about vaginas? I’ve been doing radio for 20 years and the only time I’ve been reported to the broadcasting commission was when I referred to vaginas. [Go to full article]

STI and Pregnancy Prevention Methods Needed

The Need for Broad-Spectrum STI and Pregnancy Prevention Methods Is Clearer Than Ever

by Bethany Young Holt, CAMI Health  RH Reality

December 1, 2014 Imagine the impact on women’s lives if people who wanted to prevent a pregnancy and steer clear of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) could use one product that simultaneously did both.letstalksex

Imagine if women who were the most at risk of HIV but worried about the stigma associated with HIV or negotiating prevention with their partners could have access to a variety of products to choose from—devices, gels, injectables, or drug combinations—so that women could choose one that made sense for their own circumstances. Multipurpose Prevention Technologies, or MPTs, are products on the horizon that offer this kind of broad spectrum prevention.

Why are MPTs important?

Some MPTs could combine contraception with STI prevention, including HIV. Others would allow women to get pregnant while still preventing HIV and other STIs.

Today, if women want to protect themselves from unintended pregnancies and STIs, they can use condoms (male or female), which offer “all-of-the-above” prevention. Both male and female condoms require male partner cooperation, however, and while condoms are extremely effective if used consistently and correctly, couples overwhelmingly forgo them once they are in a more committed partnership. In fact, only 8 percent of couples worldwide use condoms, leaving millions of women who use alternative kinds of birth control in danger of contracting STIs.

Furthermore, there are many millions of women worldwide who want to avoid or delay having children but who lack access to modern contraceptive methods—increasing their chances of unplanned pregnancy or, depending on the contraceptives available, contracting an STI.

It is clearly time to create new, female-initiated products that offer multipurpose prevention of HIV, other STIs, and unplanned pregnancy.

MPTs and Better Uptake

Recently, specialists at Ipsos Healthcare released research showing that an overwhelming number of women surveyed would prefer prevention methods that offer combined protection from unintended pregnancy and STIs. Ninety-eight percent of women interviewed in Uganda, Nigeria, and South Africa said that if they were hypothetically given a choice of methods, they would choose the one that offered broad spectrum prevention rather than simply an HIV prevention tool or a contraceptive.

There was no consensus on preference among the respondents, suggesting that no single product will address the needs of most women. It is therefore critical to develop a suite of MPTs that could protect through different mechanisms. One thing is for certain, though: With MPTs in women’s hands, we could expect significant dips in HIV rates in high-risk regions as preventing STIs becomes easier and more accessible.

In addition, we would expect to see reductions in the 86 million unplanned pregnancies worldwide and improvements in maternal mortality and morbidity. And when contraceptive efficacy increases, so does the quality of life for women and children: As women are better able to plan their children and stay healthy, they are more likely to attain higher levels of education and economic stability.

Women’s Input at the Heart of MPT Development

The international collaborative of researchers, policymakers, and advocates known as the Initiative for MPTs (IMPT) has already succeeded in transcending a number of barriers to innovation, not the least of which are the silos traditionally separating HIV, contraceptive, and STI research. Until recently, funding for each of these fields, primarily from the governmental sectors and private foundations, was separate and disconnected—a great challenge for collaboration. Now, agencies working in these areas are starting to work together. This is reflected in the recent formation of the IMPT Supporting Agency Collaboration Committee, which is tasked with identifying and addressing priorities and gaps in the MPT field.

Furthermore, it is important to note that product development has occurred primarily in labs; scientists traditionally have not sought women’s opinions and feedback until later-stage clinical trials. The work of the IMPT is changing the paradigm so that women’s input is sought at the get-go and social-behavioral research that informs whether women will actually use a given product is meaningfully integrated into the biomedical research. To ensure that women’s input is incorporated into the product development process, the initiative is working with agencies, including those within the National Institutes of Health, to develop product development criteria that reflect feedback from women in different regions of the world.

As IMPT partners have shared findings, reduced redundancies, and created a more streamlined and efficient field, we have already made some noteworthy advances. We have developed an MPT product development database, for example, where anyone can find out details about which products are currently in development. An MPT expected to be available within the next few years is a silicone one-size-fits-most diaphragm that can be combined with a gel that will simultaneously prevent unintended pregnancy and HIV. This is currently in the final trial phase to confirm its efficacy.

This is not to say that there aren’t significant biomedical challenges ahead in the development of MPTs—there are. But the progress made to date in the field, in combination with the potential cost savings and efficiencies offered by MPTs, makes for a compelling case for funding innovation and the international collaboration that is moving all aspects of the field forward.

On World AIDS Day this December 1, we hope you will learn more about the Initiative for MPTs and push to support MPT development as both a meaningful tool in the fight against AIDS and a potential game-changer for women’s global health.

Sex Toy Industry Has Quietly Turned Into Multi-Billion-Dollar Business

Sex Toy Industry Has Quietly Turned Into Multi-Billion-Dollar Business
Smart high-tech product designers and clever investors are hunting down the next hot opportunity.

By David Rosen    Alternet

Earlier this year, Diamond Products acquired Jimmyjane, the San Francisco sex paraphernalia company. Diamond Products is a joint venture between Pipedream Products, another leading sex-toy company, and Brookstone Partners, which according to a Bloomberg is a New York-based “private equity firm that seeks to acquire companies or invest in growth equity situations in the middle market. The firm invests in companies located in North America and focuses on industrial light manufacturing, distribution and logistics, and business services.” And sex toys.

In keeping with America’s corporate business culture, neither company would disclose the amount of the all-cash deal.

The new Diamond Products describes itself in the following glowing terms: “The Company’s product portfolio includes adult toys, lingerie, games, lotions and creams that are sold in over 80 countries through 5,000 retailers as well as e-commerce websites.”

Sex toys are a big business that has been rebranded “sexual wellness.” U.S. revenues are estimated at $15 billion and the business site, the Street, projects sales to grow to $52 billion in 2020. The sex-toy industry has changed over the last decade, driven by a change in cultural values and the anonymity of the Internet. Sex-toy outlets have shifted from retail shops serving the raincoat crowd to online sites catering to every whim and price point. The hard-scrabble sex-positive activists who started San Francisco’s Good Vibration, Babeland in Seattle and the Pleasure Chest in New York have given way to Amazon, which offers an estimated 60,000 products, and Silicon Valley-backed ventures and crowdfunding fantasies.

Sex toys are a growth market attracting an ever-growing customer base as well as smart high-tech product designers and ever-clever investors looking for the next hot opportunity. And nothing is hotter than sex.

Last year, Cave Inc., a San Francisco-based startup specializing in elegant, up-market sex toys, raised $2.4 million from a group of 60-plus angel investors. Michael Topolovac, the company’s CEO, was surprised at how little stigma he faced when pitching the company. For him, investors want results and sex is just one more market. “This is a massive market opportunity with very few players and a community eager for a new product,” he said.

“The quality of design for women’s most intimate products has long suffered,” insists Ti Chang, the Cave’s co-founder and head of design. In an unlikely coincidence, Chang, a Georgia Tech graduate, met Topolovac in China where she was promoting her startup, Incoqnito, a venture integrating jewelry and erotica. They merged their efforts and Cave was born. She noted, the “dearth of good design, coupled with the fact that the industry is dominated by men designing for women, is exactly why I began designing sex toys.”

“The industry is shifting and women are demanding more from their toys,” she added.

In February 2014, Shauna Mei, a former Goldman Sachs analyst and founder of AHAlife, launched AHAnoir, billed as “a premium destination for exclusive, high-quality adult products and boudoir accessories.” Mei raised about $21 million to launch AHAlife in 2010, a membership site offering recommendations on high-end clothing, cosmetics and other boutique products.

Other sex startups have turned to crowdfunding to raise early-phase monies. Brian Krieger, co-founder of Minna Life, a San Francisco sex toy startup, ran a successful IndieGogo campaign raising $83,777, well over its goal of $60,000. As Krieger said, “Most people don’t personally think vibrators are taboo, but they think everyone else does. I want to tell investors, ‘You’re not the only one. Nobody cares.'”

VibeEase, co-founded by Hermione Way, is a San Francisco startup promoting an app-controlled vibrator. It bills itself as “the world’s first wearable, smart vibrator bringing fantasies to life with an immersive pleasure experience.” It raised $100,000 through IndieGogo, more then three times its original goal of $30,000, and is currently seeking seed-round funding.

David Rosen is a regular contributor to AlterNet, Brooklyn Rail, Filmmaker and IndieWire. His website is He can be reached at

[Full Article]

‘We Make Us Better’ Against Domestic Violence

What are men doing to challenge and stop gender violence?

By Victoria Law  From Waging Nonviolence November 5, 2014

A group of men in Bedford-Stuyvesant called We Make Us Better formed in 2010 to re–establish a positive male influence in the community. (Facebook / We Make Us Better)

A group of men in Bedford-Stuyvesant called We Make Us Better to re–establish a positive male influence in the community. (Facebook / We Make Us Better)

I’ve been writing a lot about domestic violence this fall, both in the wake of the publicity surrounding Ray Rice’s beating of his then-fiancée Janay Palmer and because October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As I’ve rifled through my files to dig out examples of community organizing against gender violence, I’ve realized that most of the examples concentrate on women organizing against gender violence. This made be wonder: What are men doing to challenge gender violence, both individually in their daily lives and collectively as part of their political organizing? So I began asking that question on Twitter. I have a bunch of followers who are male-identified, so I figured they’d all chime in and we’d have a mini-discussion, right?

Wrong. Instead, I started noticing that people were unfollowing me. To be fair, not all of them may have done so because of my constant variation of the question: “MEN (cis and trans): What are you doing to challenge #DV (individually or collectively)?” appearing in their stream every other day. But the near-silence that met my question every time I sent it out was more than a little unnerving. While I don’t personally know all my followers, I do know some of them, including men who identify as feminist or say that they don’t put up with violence against women. I figured that, at the very least, they would speak up, right?

Wrong again. No one I know responded. (I did get two responses from people I don’t know. I’m very thankful that they responded.)

Around this time, I was asked to write a piece for Jacobin critiquing carceral feminism, which is the kind of feminism that sees an increased police response, prosecution and harsher prison sentences as the solution to gender violence. While writing the piece, I started becoming annoyed that, when we (radicals, anarchists, communists, socialists, what-have-you types of leftists) talk about domestic violence and problematic ways of addressing it, we tend to direct our anger towards carceral feminists, pointing out all the ways in which policing and increased criminalized responses have placed marginalized women at increased risk of state violence.

But we rarely seem to look in our own circles and ask, “Well, what are we doing to create alternatives to relying on the state to stop domestic violence?” Why is this only a discussion among feminists (and feminist women at that)? Where is the rest of our so-called movement in these discussions and in these actions? Why isn’t challenging domestic violence, abuse and other forms of gender violence incorporated into our social justice organizing and into the beliefs that we’re espousing?

I’m not trying to say that no one is doing work on this front. After all, I did get three responses to my repeated Twitter question over the course of a month, and there are a couple of recent examples of men addressing gendered violence.

In 2010, after a rash of muggings and robberies in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, men in the neighborhood decided they needed to take action. They formed a group called We Make Us Better and began escorting people home from the subway station, making it less likely that people would be targeted. But they didn’t stop there. The group also sponsored a neighborhood outreach walk, stopping to talk to young men hanging out on corners and encouraging them to become involved in their community. The following year, the group provided prom tuxedos for the 30 graduating senior men at the local high school. To get a tuxedo, the young men had to attend a course on etiquette before the prom. While the idea of an etiquette course may conjure up images of great-aunt Millie telling you which fork to use or the proper way to eat shellfish, that wasn’t this course.

“We want to re-establish a positive male influence in our community,” Titus Mitchell, a co-founder of We Make Us Better, told NBC New York. “A lot of these kids don’t know how to open the door for a young lady or tie a tie. If they don’t have any male figures around, how will they ever learn?”

I’m not sure if the group is still active. Both their Twitter and Facebook pages show no activity since 2012. In the face of the neighborhood’s rapid gentrification, it’s possible that some got priced out, others moved away and overall momentum for the group faded. But what we can take away from this group’s example is that, for over a year, men in the neighborhood acted to not only prevent the immediate threats of violence that targeted women, but also begin to address underlying assumptions about masculinity and acceptable male behavior in their own communities.

Last year, utilizing October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Emotional Justice Unplugged, the Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Women, and Free Marissa Now launched a month-long letter writing campaign called #31forMARISSA. The campaign urged men to write letters of support to Marissa Alexander, a Florida mother who was arrested after firing a warning shot to keep her abusive husband from continuing to attack her. Although her conviction had been overturned in September 2013, she was still in prison the following month. Eventually, she was released on bail; the prosecutor has vowed to seek a 60-year sentence against her when they go to trial in December 2014.

The campaign #31forMARISSA urged men to share stories of violence experienced by the women in their own circles, donate funds for her trial fees and become engaged as active allies in the domestic violence movement. Their letters were posted on a Tumblr while paper copies were printed and mailed to Alexander each week. Over 100 people responded to the call.

This year’s campaign is entitled #31forRay and asks men to write about childhood experiences witnessing domestic violence, its impact, and the actions of men in their family and community to stop the violence. Interestingly, this particular call seems to have garnered much less participation. There were two letters when I checked. Hopefully, by the time this column is published, there will be many more.

Addressing domestic violence and other forms of gender violence need to be seen not just as a women’s issue. We can continue to be angry at carceral feminists’ reliance on policing and imprisonment as the solution to gender violence, but until everyone in our communities takes steps to create and implement alternative responses, people will continue to see that as the default solution.

So let me throw down the gauntlet and challenge all men to take concrete actions towards ending gender violence, both in their individual lives and in their political organizing work. It’s not going to be a short and sweet task, but if we truly are committed to transforming our world, then we need to make those commitments.

Victoria Law is a freelance writer, analog photographer and parent. She is the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women and co-editor of Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements & Communities.

Creatively Confronting Rape Culture-Carry That Weight

Students get creative to confront rape culture with Carry That Weight

By Kate Aronoff    From Waging Nonviolence   November 1, 2014

Students at Penn State University participate in a “collective carry” in solidarity with sexual assault survivors. (Facebook / Carrying the Weight Together)

Students at Penn State University participate in a “collective carry” in solidarity with sexual assault survivors. (Facebook / Carrying the Weight Together)

Ever thought of creative non-sleeping uses for a vinyl-covered, extra-long twin mattress? Students at 130 colleges across five countries did just that on Wednesday, when they used their university-issued bedding to participate in Carry That Weight Together, an international day of action to confront sexual assault.

The driving forces behind the day of action were Columbia University student groups Carry That Weight Together and No Red Tape, founded this past year by Allie Rickard and Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, respectively, along with other students. No Red Tape’s Facebook page states that it seeks “to end sexual violence and rape culture at Columbia University, and [fight] for transformative, sustainable, survivor-centered solutions.” The group’s name refers to the administrative hurdles survivors go through when attempting to report their assaults to the university. No Red Tape, formed in January, pushes for university-level policy changes with actions like the ones this week, while also providing direct services related to sexual violence: a survivor support group, bystander training for staff at local bars, and consent education workshops to name just a few.

While there has been work around sexual assault on Columbia’s campus for decades, the most recent wave began last winter when Anna Bahr, then a senior at Barnard College, published a two-part expose in a campus magazine revealing — from the perspective of those assaulted — the gaps between college policy, the law and survivors’ needs.

“We are organizing at Columbia because this is where we are and this is what we know,” said Michela Weihl, a sophomore at Columbia who started working with No Red Tape when it began in January. “But this is not only about Columbia having a rape problem. It’s about living in a world where rape culture pervades everything. That’s something people experience every day.”

Carry That Weight — also known by the more literal name“Mattress Performance” — began in early September as a project by Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz for her senior thesis. Drawing comparisons to the aesthetics of Jesus Christ, Hester Prynne and Marina Abramovic, the ongoing “endurance performance art piece” comes with its own publicly posted “Rules of Engagement.” Sulkowicz must carry the mattress around at all times while on Columbia’s campus, and leave it in a secure location before she leaves university property. While onlookers can volunteer to help carry the mattress, the rules stipulate that Sulkowicz cannot solicit assistance. She intends to carry on the piece until her alleged assaulter is expelled, or until they both graduate next spring.

Since the project began, survivors and their allies at Columbia and around the country have organized “collective carries” in solidarity with Sulkowicz. Rickard, another Columbia art student, told Think Progress about how quickly the concept caught on: “Pretty much every day I’ve been finding new pictures of students, faculty and staff doing their own versions of the project — carrying mattresses around, holding rallies, doing speakouts.” This week, a group from the Central European University in Budapest posted photos from a #CarryThatWeight action in Hungary.

Mattresses carry considerable symbolic weight for Sulkowicz, who has been one of many survivors to share her story with the media. She went public only after unsuccessfully reporting her rape to university administrators, who, after a seventh-month long process, found her alleged assaulter “not responsible.” She told the Columbia Spectator in September, “I was raped in my own dorm bed and since then, that space has become fraught for me. I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened there since then.” The piece adds a collective and highly public element to an issue that’s so often considered a private matter.

Columbia students presented the administration with a list of 10 demands on Wednesday, calling for greater administrative transparency and a comprehensive policy review process that would incorporate feedback from survivors. One demand was to re-open Sulkowicz’s case. Weihl said, “I hope that she doesn’t have to carry that mattress on stage with her when she graduates.”

Columbia students, however, are by no means the first to expose universities’ mistreatment of survivors. Wednesday’s actions are the latest spike in a national, multi-year effort to change the way colleges deal with sexual assault. Organizers — working as individual campus groups and with national networks like Know Your IX and Ending Rape on Campus — have kicked off federal investigations at over 55 colleges and universities, according to a list released by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights last May. The schools represented on the list speak to the widespread nature of the problem — from Ivy League universities like Dartmouth and Princeton, to elite liberal arts colleges, to massive state institutions like Penn State University and Ohio State University. Since May, the number of schools being investigated has jumped from 55 to 79.

Six months ago, Sulkowicz and Ridolfi-Starr were among 28 students to file a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against Columbia for violations of Titles II and IX, as well as the Clery Act — all of which relate to gender-based misconduct in education. As of October 9, they had yet to hear back from the Department of Education as to whether the Office for Civil Rights will pursue a formal investigation. Similar complaints have been filed at Swarthmore, UCLA, Kansas State University and Harvard, among others. While 76 schools are currently undergoing investigation, some administrations chose to initiate federal review processes without having received a complaint.

Columbia made national headlines again last spring when anonymous students posted lists of four perpetrators of sexual assault — Sulkowicz’s alleged assaulter and three others that the university found officially “responsible” — in public places around campus. Such actions show that students’ efforts are changing — or even starting — the conversation about sexual assault on college campuses. As Weihl put it, “That people are talking about it at all is a change.” In no small part thanks to the prestige of the schools where complaints have been filed, the campaign has gained national and international media attention, and forced many universities to undergo lengthy overhauls of their institutional policies.

Responses have also come from the federal level. “It’s Not Us” is a White House initiative to involve more bystanders in the prevention of sexual assault. Affirmative consent laws, like the one passed recently in California, define consent as an active “yes” rather than the absence of a “no,” with jurisdiction specifically bound to the state’s college campuses.

Neither of these efforts are perfect; there remains a long way to go in confronting rape culture on the national and international scale. That said, new regulations and actions like Carry That Weight are emblematic of a broader cultural shift to put survivors’ needs above their schools’ reputations.

Now, taking a short “breather” after weeks of planning to catch up on schoolwork, Weihl explained that “the point of our policy push is to make cultural change happen, and to make it so that the systems in place at the university are constantly working towards that culture rather than relying on a set of passionate students to push for that cultural change. We want it embedded in the school.”

Kate Aronoff is an organizer and freelance journalist based in Philadelphia, PA. While in school, she worked extensively with the fossil fuel divestment movement on the local and national level, co-founding Swarthmore Mountain Justice and the Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network (DSN). She is currently working to build a student power network across Pennsylvania. Follow her on Twitter @katearonoff

3 Parent Brave New World

 GMO Babies with Three Parents?

Human EggSome call a new medical procedure “macabre“, others ‘Frankenscience‘, while advocates say it prevents mothers with mitochondrial disease from having unhealthy children: “they hope to prevent a variety of devastating diseases caused by mutations in mtDNA.”

In Britain, Dr. Doug Turnbull, who led the research team at Newcastle University, said last year: “What we’re trying to do is help people have healthy children, and it’s not appropriate for us to pre-judge.”

The Daily Mail explained it in a nutshell:

“The treatment is designed to get rid of faulty genes carried in structures known as mitochondria, passed down to babies from their mothers. Mitochondria are contained in all human cells and provide them with energy. If faulty, they can cause a range of debilitating, often fatal, diseases that cannot be cured.

The procedure involves taking the fertilised egg of a woman affected by faulty mitochondria and removing most of the genetic central material, or pronuclei. This is then transferred into the healthy egg of a second woman.”

Dr. Turnbull added, “I can understand those who say this is Frankenscience. But people with those views tend to be the same ones who are against IVF and any research in this area.”

The New York Times magazine published a longer story about this new technology of a baby with a father and two mothers. From The Center for Advanced Reproductive Services at UCONN 

The Brave New World of Three-Parent I.V.F.

A new treatment could sidestep certain hereditary diseases by altering the genetic makeup of the egg. Is there anything wrong with that?

Published in the New York Times by Kim Tingley

In August 1996, at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J., a 39-year-old mechanical engineer from Pittsburgh named Maureen Ott became pregnant. Ott had been trying for almost seven years to conceive a child through in vitro fertilization. Unwilling to give up, she submitted to an experimental procedure in which doctors extracted her eggs, slid a needle through their shiny coat and injected not only her husband’s sperm but also a small amount of cytoplasm from another woman’s egg. When the embryo was implanted in Ott’s womb, she became the first woman on record to be successfully impregnated using this procedure, which some say is the root of an exciting medical advance and others say is the beginning of the end of the human species.

The fresh cytoplasm that entered Ott’s eggs (researchers thought it might help promote proper fertilization and development) contained mitochondria: bean-shaped organelles that power our cells like batteries. But mitochondria also contain their own DNA, which meant that her child could possess the genetic material of three people. In fact, the 37 genes in mitochondrial DNA pass directly from a woman’s egg into every cell of her offspring, including his or her germ cells, the sperm or eggs that eventually produce the next generation — so if Ott had a girl and the donor mitochondria injected into Ott’s egg made it into the eggs of her daughter, they could be passed along to her children. This is known as crossing the germ line, something that scientists generally agree is a risky proposition.

Ott, who is Catholic, remembers weighing whether altering the makeup of her descendants in this way was O.K. “Being a person who’s been involved in science my whole life, the way I looked at it is: God gives us doctors to help us, and they help us with things like infertility,” she told me recently. As far as anyone knows, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) governs only basic cellular functions; Ott understood that her and her husband’s nuclear DNA would determine their child’s characteristics — height, eye color, intelligence and so on. “If I was doing something like, say, I only wanted a blond-haired girl, I would feel that was unethical,” she said. “But what I was trying to do was use whatever medical procedures were available to me to get pregnant, and I didn’t think that was unethical.” In May 1997, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl.

Two months later, her doctors published her case in the journal Lancet; soon, at least seven other U.S. clinics were doing the injection. Because the amount of donor mitochondria added to Ott’s egg was small, it was unclear how much third-party DNA would be present in the cells of her daughter. Ott says her doctors ran tests and did not find any, but it has been found in two other children born from the procedure. Although I.V.F. drugs and devices are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, I.V.F. procedures (like all medical procedures) are generally not. But what media outlets came to call “three-parent babies” compelled the agency to take action. In 2001, the F.D.A. informed I.V.F. clinics that using a third person’s cytoplasm — and the mtDNA therein — would require an Investigational New Drug application.

A meeting before an F.D.A. committee followed, at which the clinics presented their research. While at least 30 women became pregnant through the injections, it was unclear what role the third-party cytoplasm played in their fertility. And there were safety concerns. Two embryos with Turner syndrome, typically a rare chromosomal abnormality, occurred after the procedure; one miscarried, the other was aborted. Further, not all of the children born from the procedure in the United States were being tracked. (They would be teenagers now, whose whereabouts and health are, for the most part, unknown.) “I think it is pretty ridiculous how little data there is to support any of this, and that worries me,” the acting chairman of the F.D.A. committee, Daniel Salomon, a professor at the Scripps Research Institute, told the embryologists in his closing remarks. The “drug,” such as it was, has never been approved.

But now, more than a decade later, two research groups in the United States and one in Britain each believes it has nearly enough data to begin clinical trials for a new technique based on the transfer of mitochondria — only in this case, researchers want to pair the nuclear DNA of one egg with all the mitochondria of another. Their aim is not to cure infertility. Rather, they hope to prevent a variety of devastating diseases caused by mutations in mtDNA. The new technique, which they call mitochondrial-replacement therapy, is far more advanced than the cytoplasm injection — and the researchers have studied the procedure’s impact on animals and human cells up to a pivotal point: They have created what appear to be viable three-parent embryos. They have yet to implant one in a woman, though. In Britain, national law prohibits altering the germ line, but Parliament is very likely to vote later this year on whether to allow mitochondrial replacement to move forward. Likewise, this February, the F.D.A. held a meeting to examine the possibility of allowing clinical trials. If either gives the go-ahead, it will be the first time a government body expressly approves a medical procedure that combines genetic material of three people in a heritable way. The historic nature of the moment has turned the technique into a symbol, a red line separating humanity from a dystopian or progressive future, depending on how you look at it. In the months leading up to the meeting, the F.D.A. received several hundred emails from members of the public objecting to the idea of three-parent embryos on grounds that included: “It’s bizarre”; “You are walking in Hitler’s footsteps if you allow this”; and “We will have a world of mad scientists.”  Read More…