Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Arizona Politician Thinks He Knows What’s Best for D.C. Women

As Franks is the chairman of the House subcommittee that will be handling his legislation — and the bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Lamar Smith and Darrell Issa, who both hold powerful committee positions as well — it is all but certain the the bill will be on the fast track to a vote on the House floor.

Defending his decision to interfere in the personal decisions of women he doesn’t represent, Franks says that his bill “would address the pain and suffering of children who have done nothing wrong … [i]t will emphasize the humanity of the child and the inhumanity of what is being done to them.” This is in keeping with the anti-choice rationale for all of these bills, but it ignores some very basic facts about late-term procedures and fetal development.

The idea that a fetus feels pain before birth has been widely disproved, most notably in a 2010 study by Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Those findings indicate that a fetus does not feel pain before 24 weeks, and that even after that marker, it is difficult to conclusively say that a fetal has developed enough to feel pain. In addition, the study found that the chemical environment in the uterus induces “a continuous sleep-like unconsciousness or sedation.”

While there is a marked lack of reputable scientific evidence indicating that fetal pain exists, there is a wealth of information about why women choose late-term abortions. And contrary to what Franks claims about fetal pain and suffering, these procedures are most often performed because the fetus has abnormalities that are incompatible with life. Franks might like to imagine that women that seek late-term abortions just do so because they’re lazy or don’t care about the fetus, but the reality is that late-term abortions are far too expensive, and late-term providers are far too difficult to find, for women to ever make that decision cavalierly. This legislation will simply serve to punish women that have done nothing wrong, who wanted to make the right choice for themselves and their families – and, in the case of a severely compromised fetus, for their unborn child.

Washington, D.C. is a liberal city; as a six-year resident of the District, I have a hard time imagining that the City Council would ever even consider such a bill, much less vote it through. But since D.C. does not have voting rights, Congress is allowed to make laws for the District. As D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton observes, ”Representative Franks appears to have used his time at home figuring out new ways to undemocratically usurp the local authority of American citizens who did not elect him and who have no way to hold him accountable … We do not intend to succumb to the insatiable Republican obsession with interfering with the rights of women in our city.”

This new anti-choice trend of ignoring science and reality in order to curtail women’s rights is terrifying and dangerous. And the idea of a Congressman ignoring the issues of the constituents that elected him, and opting instead to attack women across the country with an unnecessary and grandstanding bill is infuriating. Put the two together, and it really seems that we have entered a strange new world of anti-choice dogma, where nothing matters at all except taking down reproductive rights by whatever means necessary.

Monday, January 23, 2012

March Online for Reproductive Rights!

Join the online march for women’s rights! During “Trust Women Week,” January 20-27, a whole host of fantastic organizations, including Medical Students for Choice, Ms., the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and the National Network of Abortion Funds have come together to support women’s lives and women’s rights. This online, mass mobilization is letting members of Congress, state governors, and selected state legislators know just how important reproductive rights are, and making sure that your voice will be heard. To learn more and add your message, click here!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Santorum Double Standard

With the way the Republican presidential campaign is going, it’s entirely possible that Rick Santorum will have dropped out of the race by the time this article runs. Yet before his third-place finish in the South Carolina primary, Santorum had been making a lot of news for his personal experience with terminating a pregnancy.

In 1996, the then-nineteen weeks pregnant Karen Santorum had undergone surgery to address a fetal kidney malfunction. Following the operation, she developed an infection, and the Santorums had to make the difficult choice of terminating the pregnancy, or risking Karen’s life. By all accounts they made the decision together, and Karen was given medication to induce labor.

Rick Santorum is stridently anti-choice. He has signed the Personhood Pledge; he opposes Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court decision that legalized birth control. Santorum considers late-term abortion procedures “medically unnecessary,” and opposes abortion in all circumstances, including rape; incest; if the fetus has no chance of surviving to full-term; and if a woman’s life is threatened by continuing the pregnancy.

Such unapologetic hypocrisy is breathtaking. Santorum would deny other women – and their husbands, and children – the same options that his own family benefited from, and apparently he sees nothing wrong with this extreme double standard. Anti-choicers are pretty good and twisting logic and facts to suit their needs, but the mental contortions needed to get from “terminating a pregnancy is always wrong” to “except when it’s my family” are truly dizzying.

There’s been some additional controversy around this story, among those that think the Santorums’ experience was a personal tragedy that should not be brought up in a political environment. Normally I’d agree, except that Rick Santorum has shown over and over that he has absolutely no problem deciding what choices other people should be allowed to make. If he’s going to hold such a harsh microscope up to the behaviors and actions of perfect strangers, it seems only fair to call attention to this particular bit of dangerous hypocrisy.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Texas Moves Closer to Another Restrictive Abortion Law

Texas is poised to enforce a new mandatory ultrasound law. Earlier this week, an appeals court overturned a previous court decision that had blocked enforcement of the law, which will require women to have an ultrasound 24 hours before the abortion and requires doctors to display the sonogram, make the fetal heartbeat audible, and describe the fetal development to the woman. Although the woman may choose not to view the image or hear the heartbeat, she must listen to the development description. Women that claim they are victims of reported rape and incest, or can prove that the fetal has a fatal abnormality, would be exempt from the development requirement.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has challenged the constitutionality of the law on behalf of both women and doctors, although it is not yet clear if the Center will challenge the appeals court’s recent decision. The law itself will return to federal district court for further consideration, given that a larger case challenging the law is still pending and that there are additional aspects regarding constitutionality that have not yet been considered.

Texas already requires women to receive state-mandated counseling that discourages abortion, and then wait 24 hours before getting an abortion. So in that regards, adding another law that requires an additional trip to the clinic really won’t change anything – access to clinics, in this huge state where 92% of all counties lack a provider, is already pretty restricted. But the new law is also an insultingly obvious way for Texas to disregard women’s intelligence and autonomy. The majority of women that seek abortions are already mothers; they know what a fetus looks like and what an ultrasound is. And the overwhelming majority of clinics already perform ultrasounds before the procedure, to ensure that they have the most accurate information to make the abortion as safe as possible.

Far from being about women’s safety and consent, the law infantilizes women and the doctors that treat them. This is just one more example of state governments intruding into personal and private decisions under the guise of caring about women. For more information on how you can protest this law, please check out Trust Texas Women.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Dinner Conversation

It had been a lovely wedding, and now the reception was packed. We sat down to dinner; at my table was my husband and three of our friends, along with three of the groom’s friends from grad school. Introductions were made and small talk ensued, and as our salad courses were cleared away one of the men I’d just met struck up a conversation about abortion with one of my friends.

My husband nudged me and one of my other friends grinned as I inclined myself towards the conversation, trying to discern the tone and content of the discussion – or was it debate? After a few minutes, the man noticed me listening and asked my opinion, and I offered it up, along with the caveat that I was writing a book about that very subject and had worked in the field for years.

He was less pro-choice than I was (admittedly, that’s not difficult), but not exactly anti-choice; rather, he seemed neutral and curious about the subject, though very opinionated about Tony Kaye’s documentary Lake of Fire. But it’s funny – I don’t remember a lot of specifics about our discussion. It’s as though a kind of mental tunnel vision took over, and I was so busy listening and responding that few other details even registered. It was kind of exhilarating, to be honest, being in a zone of such extreme focus and energy.

The word ‘abortion’ has been invested with so much power, loaded with associations and assumptions and politics. The number of people that still say ‘abortion’ in a hushed voice, the way that uttering the word can bring a conversation to a grinding halt, belies the fact that nearly one-third of all American women will have an abortion by age 45.

Perhaps that’s why this conversation sticks out when I think about my pro-choice war stories. This conversation, and the ones I’ve had with other strangers on planes and subway platforms or with my own mother-in-law at my kitchen table. Conversations that I never initiated but that naturally followed the question, “so, what do you do?” (or, in my mother-in-law’s case, “how’s work going?”).

The discussion at the reception wrapped up by the end of the main course. As the band began playing and guests got up to dance, the man and I thanked each other for an interesting conversation. As we shook hands, I could feel my husband relax next to me. And then we all stood up, and joined the rest of the party.