Finally Official: Limiting Abortion in the Guise of Helping Women is a Sham

It’s Finally Official: Limiting Abortion in the Guise of Helping Women is a Sham

The supreme court ruled Monday against abortion restrictions that effectively prevent women from being able to secure the procedure

By Jessica Valenti, The Guardian  June 27, 2016

Amy Hagstrom-Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, and Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, wave in celebration as they walk down the steps of the supreme court. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Amy Hagstrom-Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, and Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, wave in celebration as they walk down the steps of the supreme court. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

 

In a major victory for American women, the US supreme court sent a powerful message on Monday in its Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt decision: that laws purporting to protect women’s health while limiting access to abortion are an unconstitutional sham.

In a 5-3 decision, the court struck down a Texas law, called House Bill 2, responsible for shuttering more than half of the state’s clinics. The restrictions mandated that clinics become ambulatory surgical centers, adhering to wholly unnecessary hospital-like standards, and that doctors have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital even though hospitalization is almost never necessary after ending a pregnancy. The goal wasn’t to make abortion safer, of course, just impossible to obtain.

Ending a pregnancy is such a safe procedure that doctors would never be able to admit enough patients to a hospital in order to keep admitting privileges, and because abortions are so safe and common, maintaining the standards for a surgical center simply drained clinics of their resources. And anti-choice legislators know as much.

The court’s decision made clear the justices were not fooled, noting in the majority decision that “when directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

And in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s concurring opinion, she wrote it was “beyond rational belief that HB 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law ‘would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions.’”

Lead plaintiff in the case, Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, released a statement saying that her clinics “treat our patients with compassion, respect and dignity – and today the supreme court did the same.”

She continued, “I want everyone to understand: you don’t mess with Texas, you don’t mess with Whole Woman’s Health and you don’t mess with this beautiful, powerful movement of people dedicated to reproductive health, rights, and justice.”

The ruling represents a significant loss for anti-abortion groups, who have been pushing Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (Trap laws) over the last decade: as of this year, 24 states have some sort of law or policy that restricts abortion access through targeting the way providers work.

But the Whole Woman’s Health decision – which laid bare the way that these mandates constitute an undue burden on women seeking abortion – stands to put that years-long strategy in jeopardy. It will be that much harder for anti-choice legislators to shroud their policies in rhetoric about protecting women when the highest court in the country has essentially called the tactic nonsense.

For pro-choicers, the decision isn’t just a win, but a sticking point in the upcoming presidential election. Pro-choice organizations wasted no time releasing statements that tied the decision to how a Donald Trump presidency would be disastrous for women. Ilyse Hogue, president of Naral Pro-Choice America, says that Trump “is committed to appointing justices who will once again make abortion illegal across the country”. Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, noted that “extremist Republicans like Donald Trump should take note… women are paying attention and you’ll be hearing our voices loud and clear come November.”

Before November comes, though, American women can do some much-deserved celebrating in the wake of Monday’s decision. A strategy that aimed to limit our rights while invoking our protection has been proven impotent. A law that put tens of thousands of us in danger has been overturned. It is, finally, a good day.

Supreme Court decides a pro choice victory

From MSN  June 27, 2016

Supreme Court strikes down Texas abortion clinic regulations

"We're thrilled that justice was served and our clinics stay open," said lead plaintiff Amy Hagstrom Miller. (Photo: AFP/Getty)

“We’re thrilled that justice was served and our clinics stay open,” said lead plaintiff Amy Hagstrom Miller. (Photo: AFP/Getty)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court struck down Texas’ widely replicated regulation of abortion clinics Monday in the court’s biggest abortion case in nearly a quarter century.

The justices voted 5-3 in favor of Texas clinics that had argued the regulations were a thinly veiled attempt to make it harder for women to get an abortion in the nation’s second-most populous state.

Justice Stephen Breyer’s majority opinion for the court held that the regulations are medically unnecessary and unconstitutionally limit a woman’s right to an abortion.

Texas had argued that its 2013 law and subsequent regulations were needed to protect women’s health. The rules required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and forced clinics to meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery.

Breyer wrote that “the surgical-center requirement, like the adm


itting privileges requirement, provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions and constitutes an ‘undue burden’ on their constitutional right to do so.”

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined Breyer.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Thomas wrote that the decision “exemplifies the court’s troubling tendency ‘to bend the rules when any effort to limit abortion, or even to speak in opposition to abortion, is at issue.'” Thomas was quoting an earlier abortion dissent from Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February.

Abortion providers said the rules would have cut the number of abortion clinics in the state by three-fourths if they had been allowed to take full effect.

When then-Gov. Rick Perry signed the law in 2013, there were about 40 clinics throughout the state. That number dropped to under 20 and would have been cut in half again if the law had taken full effect, the clinics said.

Texas is among 10 states with similar admitting privileges requirements, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. The requirement is in effect in most of Texas, Missouri, North Dakota and Tennessee. It is on hold in Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.

The hospital-like outpatient surgery standards are in place in Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and it is blocked in Tennessee and Texas, according to the center, which represented the clinics in the Texas case.

Texas passed a broad bill imposing several abortion restrictions in 2013. Texas clinics sued immediately to block it claiming it impermissibly interfered with a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. The clinics won several favorable rulings in a federal district court in Texas. But each time, the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the state, at first allowing challenged provisions to take effect and then upholding the law with only slight exceptions.

The Supreme Court allowed the admitting privileges requirement to take effect in most of the state, but put the surgical center provision on hold pending the court’s resolution of the case.

The justices split largely along liberal-conservative lines in their emergency orders, with the court’s conservative justices voting repeatedly to let the law be enforced.

Trump’s Supreme Court Short List Is Really, Really Anti-Contraception

Trump’s Supreme Court Short List Is Really, Really Anti-Contraception

It’s really, really anti-choice, too.

Stephanie Mencimer  May 18, 2016 Mother Jones

AP Photo/Richard Drew

AP Photo/Richard Drew

Sorry, Paul Clement. Your hopes of taking a seat on the US Supreme Court appear to be doomed. Clement is one of the brightest—and highest paid—conservative litigators in the Supreme Court firmament, having served as solicitor general for George W. Bush and clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia. He’s also defended same-sex marriage and opposed Obamacare before the high court. But the legal luminary wasn’t on the list of potential Supreme Court candidates released Wednesday by presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Instead, Trump seems to have cut and pasted the names of most of his candidates (minus Clement) from dream-team lists publicly drawn up previously by the the Heritage Foundation, an influential, socially conservative think tank. Unlike Clement, who’s long been considered a potential future justice, many of those on Trump’s list are far more outspoken in their views on issues that resonate most with conservatives, particularly those in the evangelical wing who so far aren’t all that enamored with the three-times-married Trump—people who might include Clement. Most of those on the short list hew closely to social conservatives’ views on abortion and contraception, particularly when it comes to the contraceptive mandate created in the Affordable Care Act. Among them are:

Steven Colloton, 8th Circuit Court of Appeals: Colloton was on a panel of judges that struck down the Obama administration’s accommodations for religious organizations seeking an exemption from the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act, saying that even the process of opting out of the mandate was a burden on their religious freedom. (Every other federal court to consider the issue found the regulations acceptable.) That decision enabled the Supreme Court to take up the issue. (It released an opinion this week sending the cases back to the lower courts to work out an agreement between the parties.) Colloton also worked for Ken Starr when he was the independent counsel investigating Bill Clinton during the Whitewater/Monica Lewinsky affair.

William Pryor, 11th Circuit Court of Appeals: Pryor was such a toxic nominee when President George W. Bush chose him for a federal judgeship in 2003 that Senate Democrats initially filibustered him. Pryor has referred to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision making abortion legal, as “creating a constitutional right to murder an unborn child.” As Alabama’s attorney general, he filed an amicus brief before the Supreme Court supporting Texas’s anti-gay sodomy law—he was the only state attorney general to do so. In 2014, he was on a panel of judges that barred the Obama administration from enforcing the contraceptive mandate against EWTN, a Catholic TV network. While on the court, he voted to continue a ban on volunteers feeding homeless people near the city hall in Orlando, Florida; upheld a restrictive Georgia voter ID law; and refused to block the use of opening prayers at government meetings in Cobb County, Georgia.

Raymond Gruender, 8th Circuit Court of Appeals
: A colleague of Colloton’s, Gruender is well known for having written the circuit court’s opinion in a 2006 case concluding that a company insurance plan could exclude birth control pills from coverage, and that such a denial would not violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The opinion took aim at a Clinton-era policy finding that the Act did entitle women to contraceptive coverage, and it was used extensively by anti-abortion advocates to attack the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

While Trump’s choices might diversify the court in terms of educational backgrounds—several are not Ivy Leaguers (unlike Clement, who graduated from Harvard Law School)—they seem clearly chosen to try to shore up his prospects with religious conservatives who care deeply about the high court and are suspicious of a nominee who once praised Planned Parenthood. It’s unclear whether simply promising to pick an anti-reproductive-freedom Supreme Court justice will be enough to persuade evangelicals to ignore his history as a playboy New Yorker with an utter lack of familiarity with the Bible, but it’s probably a decent start.

Planned Parenthood Trains Pro-choice advocates

As It Prepares For War, Planned Parenthood Is Training A Political Army

by Emily Atkin  May 17, 2016  ThinkProgress

ppanthem PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA — For Planned Parenthood, this election season means war. And you can’t win a war without an army.

So Planned Parenthood is building one: An army of pro-choice advocates trained in how to win political campaigns. On Friday, the women’s health organization held its biggest-ever volunteer training event in Pittsburgh, where nearly 1,000 activists from 48 states were taught how to build grassroots political support for reproductive health and abortion rights.

The training is just one part of what Planned Parenthood says will be the most expensive electoral effort in its 100-year history. Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards told ThinkProgress that her organization plans to spend at least $20 million to help win key Senate races and the presidency this November. While some of that money will go toward paid media like radio and television ads, a large portion is going toward building a grassroots army that can help elect Hillary Clinton to the White House. (Planned Parenthood endorsed Clinton in January.)

“This was, I believe, the largest volunteer training we’ve ever had in the history of Planned Parenthood,” Richards said on Monday. “They represent one slice of what is an enormous volunteer army that Planned Parenthood is building across the country.”

“We’ve never done anything like this before,” added Kelley Robinson, who organized the event for Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “This is a defining moment for our organization when it comes to thinking about how to build our power.”

Power is something Planned Parenthood could use. Last year, an anti-abortion sting campaign falsely accused the organization of selling fetal tissue for profit, which led directly to renewed defunding efforts in Congress and, indirectly, to a shooting at one of the organization’s clinics. In the last year, the Republican-led Congress voted to defund Planned Parenthood at least eight times. And while presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump once said the organization did “very good work,” he has since taken a harsher tone against the organization and abortion in general. On Sunday, he said he would nominate pro-life Supreme Court justices, suggesting they might vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. He also once suggested punishment for women who receive abortions, a position he later recanted.

This combination of anti-abortion rhetoric in state legislatures, Congress, and the presidential race means Planned Parenthood must build a similarly diverse strategy.

In addition to advertising and social media campaigns, it must have people on the ground, spreading the word about the importance of reproductive healthcare. And the organization can’t just focus on winning the presidency — it has to target down-ticket races as well.

“The importance of taking back [the U.S. Senate] is paramount,” said Deirdre Schifeling, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s executive director. “It’s important to take back the presidency, it’s also equally important to flip the Senate. The [House of Representatives], we think is probably two cycles away. But we can flip the Senate.”   [Read whole article]

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.”