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.

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.”

Lawmakers Nationwide Launch Concerted Assault on Women’s Rights

Lawmakers Nationwide Launch Concerted Assault on Women’s Rights

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

by Deirdre Fulton  Common Dreams   February 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They continued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hyde Amendment Restrictions on Abortion

Move Afoot to Overturn Hyde Amendment Restrictions on Abortion

By Eleanor J. Bader, February 06, 2015  Truthout

Abortion rights protest When Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde (1924-2007) introduced a legislative measure to cut off federal Medicaid funding for abortion in 1976 – leaving it up to each state to decide whether to use locally raised revenue to pay for the procedure – he understood that by incrementally chipping away at Roe v. Wade, he and his colleagues would be able to make headway in reducing access to reproductive choice.

“I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the Medicaid bill,” he told Congress.

And so began a relentless onslaught of federal, and then state, attacks on abortion, a campaign that has led to passage of a staggering 231 restrictions since 2011 and many hundreds more since Roe was decided in 1973. This, of course, has done little to appease lawmakers who want an outright ban on legal abortion.

On the federal level, the new Republican-led 114th Congress has acted quickly, demonstrating their gumption by introducing six separate antichoice measures during the first seven days of convening. One of them – a bill to make it impossible to buy health insurance policies that cover abortion through the Affordable Care Act – passed the House on Roe’s 42nd birthday.

Similarly, bans on abortion after 20 weeks, personhood amendments, and laws to force clinics to operate like ambulatory surgery centers are among the restrictions proposed in numerous state houses throughout the South and Midwest.

Obviously, advocates of reproductive justice are facing an uphill slog, but a coalition of activists, called All* Above All, is not only taking on the Hyde Amendment, but is working to promote a positive, pro-woman agenda that places eliminating poverty and challenging racism, sexism and classism at the core of its efforts. The campaign has already generated a great deal of grassroots momentum.

Kalpana Krishnamurthy, a staff person at Forward Together, a 25-year-old Oakland, California-based reproductive justice (RJ) group, participated in a summer 2014 All* Above All bus tour that travelled more than 10,000 miles and brought hard facts about Hyde to people in 12 disparate cities.

“Some people said that they clearly remembered when Roe was announced and couldn’t believe we were still fighting this battle; others who had not been born in 1973 were shocked to learn that this type of discrimination continues to exist,” she said.

“They were stunned to learn that women who attempt to access abortions but can’t are three times more likely to fall into poverty than women who are able to get the care they need. Many people also had no idea that Medicaid restrictions have such a disproportionate impact on people of color, who tend to be poorer than Caucasians overall.”

Other facts, among them that the Hyde Amendment impacts 9 million women between the ages of 15 and 44 – 1 in 7 US females – further angered those with whom Krishnamurthy and other All* Above All volunteers spoke, and it took no coaxing to get them to write letters to their elected officials in support of overturning Hyde. “Most agreed that the government should not put up barriers to abortion access,” she reported.

Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz, vice president of program and development at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, [rcrc.org] said that RCRC joined the coalition for just this reason. “The Hyde Amendment was constructed to systematically target women of color and working-class and poor communities, she said. “To marginalize and throw these communities under the bus is sinful and horrifying. Our faith tradition calls us to do something about it.”

In addition to working with All* Above All, RCRC has developed a program called It’s Time, a congregation-based campaign to raise issues of reproductive justice within churches, synagogues, temples and mosques. In addition, by working with the largely-secular All* Above All, RCRC is attempting to serve as a “bridge” between RJ and religious organizations. Along the way, RCRC is contesting the still-prevalent idea that all people of faith oppose choice and support patriarchy.

All* Above All is a project of the Coalition for Abortion Access and Reproductive Equity, a four-year-old entity initiated by the National Network of Abortion Fund (NNAF); and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. “Every effort to defeat Hyde has been built on the ones that came before it,” Stephanie Poggi, executive director of NNAF, told Truthout.

“When Hyde first passed, there was a battle to repeal it, but it lost, and in 1981, the Supreme Court upheld the ban.” A dozen years later, in 1993, she continued, the Black Women’s Health Project launched another repeal effort. “This one succeeded in getting the rape and incest exceptions inserted into the amendment,” Poggi noted, a victory that allows pregnancies resulting from these types of violations to be terminated for anyone in any state who is covered.

It was a small, but not insignificant win, Poggi added, and subsequent organizing drives in 2000 and 2006 continued to build support for overturning Hyde. Some of the impetus, she said, came from the more than 80 abortion funds that raise private money from individual donors to help low-income women pay for abortions in the 32 states (and Washington, DC) that do not provide funding for them, something that would not be needed if Medicaid coverage was available.

Poggi further credited the leadership of women of color in the reproductive justice movement for pushing the interests of the most vulnerable constituencies into the limelight. “Thanks to the leadership of those who work directly with low-income women, All* Above All is the strongest anti-Hyde effort yet,” she said.

The coalition’s strategy is multi-tiered and long range. Right now, Poggi reports, All* Above All is concentrating on building support for overturning Hyde by reaching out to young people, people of color and activists “who already see how important it is to build support for this work.”

They are also working in states where Medicaid coverage is currently available, but considered vulnerable – Minnesota, Oregon and West Virginia – and are shoring up support for its continued provision.

“We need to protect the coverage that exists and make it stronger,” Poggi explained. “We’ll then try to expand into states without coverage. It’s our job to demonstrate how central Medicaid coverage for abortion is in ensuring that low-income women have decent lives. We also need to highlight the links between reproductive freedom and economic and racial justice.”

While All* Above All is intent on spreading this message to regular folks, it also wants to bring state, city and federal legislators on board. Kate Stewart is on the coalition’s steering committee and points out that at the conclusion of the bus tour, more than 175 activists converged on Washington, DC, for Hill Education Day meetings with 95 lawmakers, several of whom committed to working to overturn the amendment, all Democratic representatives: Rep. Katherine Clark (Massachusetts); Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut); Ted Deutch (Florida); Keith Ellison (Minnesota); Eleanor Holmes Norton (Washington, DC); Mike Quigley (Illinois); and Jan Schakowsky (Illinois).

A petition to President Obama, signed by more than 80 organizations, further demanded that Medicaid funding for abortion be included in the fiscal 2016 budget.

All* Above All has effectively demonstrated that “Medicaid coverage is not the third rail of reproductive health policy,” said Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas of the National Latina Institute. Nonetheless, not all of the 60-plus coalition members are able to make its demands a number one priority.

Cherisse A. Scott, founder and CEO of SisterReach, a three-year-old Tennessee group working to promote reproductive justice, cautions that it may be impossible to make overturning Hyde a central demand in every state. “Tennessee just passed Amendment One in November,” she said. “This means that if we lose Roe at the federal level, our state legislature will immediately make abortion illegal here. Our priority right now is educating people about what just happened, because a lot of folks believe abortion is already illegal. For the foreseeable future, Hyde will have to take a back seat.”

Still, to a one, All* Above All members agree that it is high time for the reproductive justice movement to be proactive. “We’re working to engage the women of color, young women and poor women who are the most impacted by restrictions on abortion,” said steering committee member Kate Stewart. “It’s a multifaceted campaign that takes a bold, positive, vocal and visible stand to lift coverage bans.”

Despite obvious challenges, she is heartened by the on-the-ground support All* Above All has received from people across the country.

That said, Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas of the Latina Institute concedes that the stakes remain extremely high, and she urges supporters to keep the focus on the ways the amendment impacts individuals and families.

“We should never forget Rosie Jimenez,” she concluded, “or her tragic legacy.” Jimenez was a 27-year-old Latina single mother and college student who is the first known victim of the Hyde Amendment. Her life was lost to septic shock following an illegal abortion two months after the amendment took effect. Although Jimenez had a Medicaid card, she lived in Texas, a state that does not provide the coverage she needed to terminate an ill-timed and unwanted pregnancy.

Eleanor J. Bader teaches English at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, NY. She is a 2015 winner of a Project Censored award for “outstanding investigative journalism” and a 2006 Independent Press Association award winner. The coauthor of Targets of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism, she presently contributes to Lilith, RHRealityCheck.org, Theasy.com and other progressive feminist blogs and print publications. 

Abortion Lethal For Many Women

Abortion in Brazil: a matter of life and death

The day after Jandyra went for an abortion her body was found mutilated beyond recognition. Donna Bowater reports on the plight of millions of women who put their lives in the hands of gangs running dangerous clinics

By Donna Bowater  The Guardian February 1, 2015

Jandyra Magdalena who died from an illegal abortion

‘They don’t have consciences – they are monsters. These clinics are not thinking about the wellbeing of the woman’: Joyce Magdalena after the death of her sister Jandyra, above. Photograph courtesy of Jandyra’s family

Born five years apart, sisters Joyce and Jandyra Magdalena dos Santos Cruz lived together in a simple low-rise in Guaratiba, a poor neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro, with Joyce’s four children, Jandyra’s two daughters, and their mother, Marie Ângela. Like many Brazilian families, their lives were inextricably meshed by economies of scale.

It was the honey-coloured eyes they also shared that Joyce Magdalena recognised last August, when Jandyra was found inside a burnt-out car. She had been mutilated, dismembered and charred beyond identification. She had climbed into the same car a day earlier, at a bus station in the nearby town of Campo Grande, to be taken for an illegal abortion.

“The press said they cut off her hands,” says Joyce. “It wasn’t just her hands. They took off her arms, legs, teeth. A woman so beautiful. OK, she committed a crime, but she was committing a crime against herself, against her own life. It didn’t hurt anyone.”

Were it not for the brutality of the case, Jandyra might have become just another statistic: another woman having one of the estimated one million abortions carried out every year in Brazil, where it is punishable by up to three years in prison. Even her death would have been unlikely to raise more than a passing mention. It is claimed that every two days a Brazilian woman dies while trying to end a pregnancy, and there are 200,000 hospital admissions a year as a result of bungled procedures. But Jandyra’s fate shone a light on the cruel, illegal trade in women’s desperation. It stirred women’s rights groups and activists, giving a high-profile face to their controversial cause: “How many more Jandyras?” and “We are all Jandyra” were the straplines on the protest posters in Copacabana last September.

According to the police investigation, she was the victim of a criminal gang running an “abortion business”. Along with two other women, Jandyra, aged 27, was met by the gang’s driver at the bus station so as to hide the makeshift clinic’s address, and driven to a rented home in a private condominium. The alleged gang ringleader, Rosemere Aparecida Ferreira, reportedly admitted to police that Jandyra had paid R$4,500 (£1,100) for the termination carried out by an unlicensed doctor, Carlos Augusto Graça de Oliveira, but said she had not been there at the time. Ferreira claimed she was later called by the driver to say only that there had been “a problem”.

It is suspected that Jandyra suffered fatal complications during the abortion, with prosecutors alleging the gang then disfigured her body to protect themselves by preventing her from being identified. Her limbs, fingers and dental arch were removed, and her body set alight. “I couldn’t do this to a dog, a cat, a parrot,” says Joyce. “They don’t have consciences – they are monsters. These clinics are not thinking about the wellbeing of the woman. They’re thinking about money.

While Jandyra’s death shocked Brazil, the death of a housewife in another botched abortion in Rio just a month later thrust the law into the spotlight immediately before October’s general election. Elizângela Barbosa, 32, died after a plastic tube was left in her uterus. She had been in a similar situation: she had three children and could not afford a fourth. “I don’t think she would have had so much courage, but she was really tormented about this,” says her sister Sandra Barbosa, still in shock. Sandra is now bringing up Elizângela’s seven-year-old daughter and one-year-old son, while her four-year-old boy stays with his father. Police arrested a woman called Ligia Maria Silva, who reportedly started performing clandestine abortions 20 years ago after carrying out her own.

“It’s totally illegal, so the women have abortions in the worst conditions,” says Dr Marcelo Burlá, president of the Gynaecology and Obstetrics Society of Rio de Janeiro state. “We have a lot of bad problems, like hysterectomies, like bleeding, like women not able to be pregnant again. All because we have a legal condition that doesn’t support the women who don’t want to have a baby.”

The right to choose: a pro-abortion march in São Paulo. Photo by Tiago Mazza Chiaravalloti/NurPhoto

The right to choose: a pro-abortion march in São Paulo. Photograph: Tiago Mazza Chiaravalloti/Rex

There are only a handful of exemptions to the ban on abortion – to save the mother’s life, if the pregnancy was a result of rape, or, in a recent controversial addition, if the foetus has anencephaly, a rare birth defect in which the brain and skull do not develop. By October, police in Rio had made 61 arrests as part of the 15-month-long Operation Herod, which investigated an illegal abortion set-up charging up to £1,800 per procedure. The gang allegedly carried out up to 20 abortions a day. In 2013 there were only 1,520 “legal” terminations carried out by the public health service.

In an otherwise sparse living room in Guaratiba, under an unforgiving bare light, there’s a little plastic Christmas tree sitting beside the TV. It is mid-November, three months after Jandyra’s death, and the festive season has been brought forward to give her motherless daughters, who are just eight and 11, some hope of happiness.

“We tried to convince Jandyra not to do it,” Joyce says. “But she thought she had no other option. In that moment of despair, she took this difficult decision.” Like many, Jandyra opposed abortion, but was faced with raising another child unwanted and unsupported by its father. “I think there should be a law that says after two children, we’ll tie the tubes. Two children is sufficient,” Joyce adds.

After her last pregnancy, Jandyra had wanted to have tubal ligation but, at 18, was told she was too young. Elective sterilisation is available on Brazil’s public health system for women over 25 or with at least two children, and with their husband’s consent. Joyce says there is a need for greater use of contraception in such a sexualised culture. “Women feel alone because the men in Brazil disappear,” Joyce tells me. “It’s a culture where women and men have various relationships; it’s a normal thing to have sex. But then men abandon women.” In a country where the minimum wage is £180 a month and where more than 11 million people live in favelas, each child can be too great a financial burden.

“It used to be that you finished school and you got a job,” Joyce says. “Now you don’t get anything. Imagine me, with four children – it’s going to be much harder than for someone who has two or one. I know it involves questions of religion. I’m evangelical; it’s very controversial. But my religion doesn’t have any problem with vasectomies, with tying tubes. I think we need a more rigorous law to protect women from desperate situations.”

Though definitive statistics are almost impossible to obtain, according to a pioneering field study, the 2010 National Abortion Survey, one in five Brazilian women have had at least one abortion by the age of 40 (in Britain the figure is one in three). Conservative estimates suggest 800,000 clandestine abortions are carried out a year, while pro-choice campaigners cite one million. “Women are afraid of telling us the truth,” says Debora Diniz, one of the authors of the study. “We have concrete reasons to believe that the number is even higher because women have reasons not to tell the truth, even using a secret ballot box.”

In Rio the scale of the organisation running clandestine clinics became clear during the police operation. Among those arrested were six doctors, two lawyers and several police officers. They were said to have co- ordinated illegal abortion centres in several neighbourhoods. The alleged gang leader, 88-year-old Aloísio Soares Guimarães, was reportedly found with statements for $5m in a Swiss bank account. Glaudiston Lessa, a police officer, told O Globo that the gang had carried out an abortion on a girl as young as 13.

When I meet Luciana Lopes, Rio’s co-ordinator for Brazil Without Abortion, a pro-life movement, the first thing I see is the stirrups of her new examination table. Also a gynaecologist, Luciana is setting up her surgery in the north of the city. She firmly rejects the estimated abortion rates. “If it’s clandestine, there’s no official information,” she says. “But even among the woman who do have abortions, many are not in favour. It’s not just about whether it’s legal or not – it’s a question of the woman living with committing murder. It’s a life that she is taking.”

I ask if she knows any women who have had abortions. “Many,” she says, nodding, but she adds that women are not criminalised for it. “We know that abortion carries risks to the life of the woman – illegal abortion as much as legal abortion,” she says, adding that the movement would like to see the legal exemptions removed and abortion completely criminalised. “Even if she is pregnant and doesn’t want the baby at all, doesn’t recognise the baby, the other line that we take is adoption. She doesn’t need to kill, doesn’t need to put her life at risk.”

Recent research suggests that 65% of Brazilians support the current restrictions on terminations. In the world’s biggest Catholic country, it is small wonder. But Brazil’s relationship with religion and abortion is more nuanced. In the 2010 abortion survey, faith appeared to play little part: most women who had abortions said they were also Catholic. Yet religious conservatism meant that despite two high-profile cases, abortion was hardly discussed during last year’s presidential election.

“Brazil is a country formed under the sign of the cross. Everything good and not so good that happened had the strong presence of the Catholic church,” says Eduardo Jorge, the Green Party presidential candidate who supports the legalisation of abortion. He says there is no explicit condemnation of abortion in the Bible. “We need more liberal and enlightened political leaders to talk to the people about their reasons. Only with dialogue and debate will it be possible to change the current law, which is retrograde and sexist, causing death and suffering to women and their families.” When I ask how long it might take to change the current legal situation, Jorge replies: “God only knows.”

Though there appears to be little link to religion, abortion is more common among women with low levels of education. Diniz says it’s not clear why, but one likely explanation is that they are using contraception methods incorrectly. “Abortion and the risks of illegality are basically a problem for the poor and black women of Brazil,” Diniz says.

Micheline Alves, 40, a journalist for a women’s magazine and a mother of two, has a very different abortion story. She lives in a chic boho neighbourhood in São Paulo, a world away from Guaratiba, Rio. At six weeks pregnant, she found a trusted doctor known among her circle of friends who would carry out abortions from his clinic in a hospital. Because of the early stage of her pregnancy, she paid £870. “The crazy thing for me in Brazil is that a middle-class person in a big metropolis like this can easily find a doctor who will do a safe abortion,” Micheline says.

For her, the decision was straightforward, made easier by access to a reputable medical professional. “The fact that I was already a mother made it all the more clear,” she says. “I have an idea of how much a child changes your life, and I was sure – without talking with my partner, before I told anyone – that it wasn’t time.”

On the day that Micheline went for her consultation, the names of 20 other women were tacked to the doctor’s wall, each one paying close to or just over £1,000 for the procedure. “This consultation was difficult, despite my conviction,” she says. “Firstly because it was clandestine. Also, however secure you are with your decision, the moment you meet with a doctor can feel strange. But in the end the process was very simple.”

Her misgivings centre on the inequalities of a clandestine business. She says her realisation that she was one of the “hidden” women prompted her to write about her experience.

“The doctor created a system that resolved a problem that Brazil is refusing to resolve,” she says. “It’s crazy because on the other hand, he also does it because it pays. But he’s a good doctor, does it correctly. He’s running a high risk. Abortions are being carried out in Brazil – it’s just that they are being carried out in very unequal conditions. In all these cases, the questions stay in the shadows, in the dark. You can’t have clear measures. You can’t leave all these people underground.”

Whatever the real number of women aborting pregnancies, the law that makes it a crime is not protecting them. With such a tangle of religious and moral opposition, change seems a long way off.

Meanwhile, in the absence of justice or answers, Jandyra’s family turn to their only comfort. “We have faith in God,” Joyce says. “Jandyra could be another statistic, but she’s not. She’s an icon of respecting other opinions, because we are against it, others are in favour, and we have to have a debate.”

When Joyce considers what she might ask those responsible, she says: “I want to know what really happened, whether she woke up or if she was totally anaesthetised when she died. They can do what they want with her body – flesh is flesh. But I want to know if she felt pain. It’s an answer we deserve.”

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.

‘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]

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

Cosmo Girl for Women’s Rights

Why Cosmo Is Getting Serious About Its Reproductive Rights Coverage

By Tara Culp-Ressler April 14, 2014 ThinkProgress

 

photo: Cosmopolitan.com

Photo: Cosmopolitan.com

Lauren Rankin, a freelance writer who focuses on issues of reproductive justice, doesn’t always keep track of her new Twitter followers. But one recently caught her eye.

“A couple weeks ago I noticed that one of Cosmo’s editors, Lori Fradkin, followed me on Twitter… At the time I thought, Cosmo? That’s kind of weird, since I mainly write about reproductive rights,” Rankin recounted.

Then, a couple days later, Rankin was added to a list serv that receives periodic emails about Cosmopolitan.com’s latest reproductive rights coverage — topics ranging from abortion clinic harassment, to the new law in Texas that’s forcing abortion clinics to close, to combating abortion stigma.

Those probably aren’t the topics you’d expect to encounter in Cosmopolitan. After all, the women’s magazine is largely infamous for doling out complicated sex tips — advice that feminist sites like Jezebel have been mocking for years. But so far this year, Cosmopolitan.com has actually published story after story that focuses on in-depth issues related to reproductive rights.

For instance, in an article that went up at the beginning of last week, an OB-GYN practicing in Texas explains what it’s like to provide health care in a state that’s enacted so many harsh restrictions on abortion, which can force some women to resort to dangerous options. “My first hysterectomy as a resident was on a 16-year-old who had an illegal abortion. Her pelvis was nothing but pus,” the piece begins.

Rankin said she’s been heartened by the site’s “legitimate strides” to include more coverage of abortion policy, and impressed that the editorial staff seems to be making a concerted effort to connect with writers who are already working in this issue space. So she emailed Fradkin directly to offer to write for the site, too. She’s published two pieces — one on a middle school’s potentially sexist dress code, and another on a bill in Tennessee that’s seeking to criminalize pregnant women — so far. And Rankin isn’t the only feminist writer who now has a Cosmo byline. Jill Filipovic, a columnist for the Guardian and a blogger at Feministe, has also published several pieces about reproductive rights on Cosmopolitan.com.

“It all comes down to one core value, which is that we are unequivocally for women’s rights. It’s that simple,” Cosmopolitan.com’s editor, Amy Odell, told ThinkProgress when asked about the apparent editorial shift. “We believe every woman should have access to safe, affordable health care, and when that right is threatened, we’re not afraid to tackle those threats head-on.”

Rankin’s interaction with Cosmo’s staff appears to be part of the site’s new strategy. Odell explained that Lori Fradkin, who was hired as the new features editor at the end of last year, has been working on building up a team of writers who can tell “powerful stories” about the impacts of legislative attacks on women’s rights. Rather than publishing straight reports on new abortion restrictions, Cosmo is primarily attempting to find a way to tell personal stories their readers can connect with.

“The reception has been incredible — it’s been enormously gratifying to see such high engagement with our audience around these issues,” Odell said. “One challenge of working on the internet, as all of we online editors know, is getting people to care about hard news as opposed to what Kim Kardashian wore an hour ago. Of course we’re happy to keep readers filled in on what Kim Kardashian is wearing, but we do see stronger social engagement and traffic on stories about women who get harassed at abortion clinics by protesters.”

Other women’s magazines don’t entirely avoid reproductive rights. In 2009, Glamour profiled several women explaining why they chose to have an abortion. The same year, Marie Claire shared the stories of two women who each made different decisions about whether to have a later abortion. Both Marie Claire and and Elle have published a few stories about Wendy Davis’ famous filibuster and Texas’ new abortion law.

But Cosmo’s persistent focus on the issue, and recruitment of freelance writers who are real experts in the space, is something new. It also has the potential to spread abortion rights far beyond the audiences that currently read about that topic. “It’s such a mainstream magazine that could help reach people who might not be aware of the onslaught of attacks,” Rankin pointed out.

And maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising. Despite the perception that women’s magazines and websites never tackle serious stories, publications that cover fashion and beauty also produce content on a wide range of more hard-hitting subjects. It’s also not hard to see why outlets like Cosmo might be interested in experimenting. As magazine sales are slumping, Cosmo is probably trying hard to engage its growing base of digital readers with fresh strategies and new angles.

There are also some signs that the brand is becoming more aware of its reputation for silly sex tips, and is now embracing more of a tongue-in-cheek approach to that content. Ramping up the policy coverage could fit into a larger tonal shift for the publication.

If Cosmo continues to take more of an explicitly feminist approach on issues like abortion, will other magazines follow? If that content really does end up engaging readers better than celebrity news, as Odell suggests, it’s a real possibility that could end up influencing pop culture as a whole. Celebrity women are notorious for shying away from the “feminist” label, but as the movement continues to become more mainstream — for better and for worse — that might not remain the case. Beyoncé has done a lot to reclaim that ground lately, and Cosmo seems to be ready to do its part too.

“I can’t speak for other magazines, but at Cosmo, we are for women’s rights and that’s why it’s so important for us to talk about cases of those rights being infringed upon,” Odell said.