Hosting this weeks open thread is Carole King’s classic hit from the 70s. Please natter/chatter/vent/rant on anything* you like over this weekend and throughout the week.
Carole King’s “Tapestry” with lyrics
So, what have you been up to? What would you rather be up to? What’s been awesome/awful?
Reading? Watching? Making? Meeting?
What has [insert awesome inspiration/fave fansquee/guilty pleasure/dastardly ne'er-do-well/threat to all civilised life on the planet du jour] been up to?
* Netiquette footnotes:
* There is no off-topic on the Weekly Open Thread, but consider whether your comment would be on-topic on any recent thread and thus better belongs there.
* If your comment touches on topics known to generally result in thread-jacking, you will be expected to take the discussion to #spillover instead of overshadowing the social/circuit-breaking aspects of this thread.
- Weekly Open Thread with May dancers by tigtog May 10, 2013
- Weekly Open Thread with knitting Hepburns by tigtog March 15, 2013
- Weekly Open Thread with Silk in a Market by tigtog March 22, 2013
- Weekly Open Thread with Toys in Trees by tigtog April 26, 2013
- Weekly Open Thread with a Yarn-bombed Willow by tigtog April 5, 2013
A few weeks ago, I was at a party, talking to a guy I'd never met. I told him I work for a feminist magazine. He got very sincere.
"You're a feminist," he said. "Does that mean you hate men?"
This is a persistent myth. There are plenty of things in the world that hate men, but I'm not one of them. Instead of fearing feminism, dudes should fret over the genuine maneaters: Sharks. Tigers. Godzilla.
Welcome to the latest installment of Ms. Opinionated, in which readers have questions about the pesky day-to-day choices we all face, and I give advice about how to make ones that (hopefully) best reflect our shared commitment to feminist values—as well as advice on what to do when they don't.
Dear Ms. Opinionated,
Women make up almost half the workforce today, and, if they become pregnant, most will work throughout their pregnancy. Given this reality, you probably think the stories below are works of a bygone era. Well, you’d be wrong.
—A woman was 16 weeks pregnant and worked as a cashier at a large retailer in New York City. One day she fainted and was taken to the emergency room. Despite doctor’s orders that she remain vigilant about drinking water, she was severely dehydrated. When the physician asked why she was not drinking enough fluids, she said that her boss would not allow her to drink water while working at the cash register.
—When Shelly (not her real name) became pregnant, she was working two jobs in Indiana to support her family: the overnight shift stocking shelves for a major national retail chain and the day shift packing items to ship for a medical supply company. Her doctor advised her not to lift more than 20 pounds. The medical supply company immediately accommodated these restrictions, but the major national retailer refused to modify her duties. She experienced a lot of pain while doing the heavy lifting and miscarried shortly thereafter.
—An airline ticket agent in Louisiana was told by her doctor not to lift anything heavy at work. Her employer refused to provide her with a “light duty” assignment and told her that she would be placed on unpaid leave if she brought a doctor’s note. Not having an income wasn’t an option, so throughout her pregnancy she continued to lift heavy bags and spent 10- and 12-hour days on her feet. Toward the end of her pregnancy, she suffered stress-induced toxemia and went into labor prematurely. Her child suffered numerous health complications.
—Julie worked as a full-time driver at UPS. The work can be physically exhausting. When she became pregnant, she requested a light duty position, just as she had done when she had been injured on the job. But UPS refused to accommodate her and put her on unpaid leave for the rest of her pregnancy.
Stories like these are all too common, and that’s why we need the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which was introduced in Congress on Tuesday.
Despite the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act more than 30 years ago, which prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, some employers continue to deny pregnant women the job modifications that could protect not only a woman’s pregnancy but also a family’s economic security, forcing pregnant women out of their jobs.
The PWFA would make it crystal clear to employers that they can’t treat pregnant women worse than other workers who have certain job limitations and instead must make reasonable accommodations if doing so doesn’t pose an undue hardship on the business.
Even though Mother’s Day is over, do one more thing for your mom and all the other moms out there: Call your members of Congress and ask them to co-sponsor the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act today. You can find the phone number for your representatives here and your senators here.
Vania Leveille is legislative counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office, and Lenora M. Lapidus is director, ACLU Women’s Rights Project
Crossposted from ACLU Blog of Rights
This is not a famous picture, but it should be. Forty years ago, the March 22, 1973 issue of Jet magazine featured Dr. T.R.M. Howard and a staffer attending a prostrate female patient on its cover, all under a yellow headline: “Legal Abortion: Is it Genocide or Blessing in Disguise?” This remarkable image reportedly depicts preparations for one of the first legal abortions in Illinois (though it could also have been staged).
Just two months after the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the Roe v. Wade decision and a week after Illinois OKed the procedure on its soil, Dr. Theodore Roosevelt Mason (or T.R.M.) Howard began performing legal abortions at his Friendship Medical Center in Chicago. According to the accompanying feature story, Black and white women alike jammed the clinic’s waiting room and phone lines. Outside, Jesse Jackson—once a protégée of Howard’s—picketed and called abortion Black genocide.
In the wake of polarizing national debates about abortion, it’s difficult to imagine that a national magazine would feature an abortion procedure on its cover. And with clinic bombings, harassment, and the assassinations of abortion providers, it is equally hard to imagine many abortion providers would opt for this level of exposure.
But images have long been the currency of both the pro-choice and anti-abortion movements. In 1973, Ms. magazine published the searing image of the naked, kneeling body of twenty-eight-year-old Gerri Santoro, who died from a self-induced abortion in a Norwich, Connecticut hotel room in 1964. The Silent Scream, a 1984 film partly funded by the National Right to Life Committee, claimed to show a fetus writhing in pain during an abortion and became a staple in the arsenal of anti-abortion visual arguments. Earlier this decade, billboards showing winsome Black children towered over streets in Atlanta and New York, blaring messages such as, “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.” With ever more advanced ultrasound technology, pictures of fetuses are now stock images in the fight to keep abortion legal and accessible; in many states, ultrasounds are required viewing in pre-abortion counseling blatantly designed to dissuade women from terminating their pregnancies.
Advocates on both sides of the abortion debate know that images are worth far more than the proverbial thousand words. The 1973 Jet cover image, in particular, operates on multiple registers. First, we can’t underestimate the impact of the prime real estate given to this image. Jet magazine has circulated millions of copies and occupied a place of pride in Black homes, barbershops, and newsstands since its founding in 1951.
Nor can we, in our current climate, underestimate the power of showing a Black abortion provider. When abortion opponents point fingers at what they call a racist abortion industry targeting communities of color, the providers they imagine are white. The most notable exception is not an heartening or representative one: Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia provider who was found guilty of three counts of murder on Monday. (Though multiple parties expressed concern about his methods, his facility’s sanitary conditions, and its higher-than-usual complication rates, his clinic continually used untrained staff, performed abortions after legal limits, and generally functioned as a last-resort house of horrors for poor women with advanced pregnancies.)
Jet also published brief blurbs about Black women’s abortion-related deaths and the trials of Black health-care providers accused of performing illegal abortions before 1973. The December 16, 1954 issue’s medical news column mentioned legal action against Los Angeles chiropractor Edmund George Peters, who had previously served a six-month sentence on the county road camp for an abortion charge, and Dr. Henry Landry, an Alexandria, Virginia physician suspected in an abortion-related fatality. (Howard himself was brought up on multiple charges but not convicted.)
But the above photograph wordlessly counters the predominant imagery of pre-Roe abortions. This is not the makeshift and blood-spattered back-alley room in a shady neighborhood. Howard appears in a sparkling white lab coat, and his helper is decked out in scrubs and a hairnet. They seem the picture of medical efficiency and professionalism, not untrained shysters. The image captures a moment of social, legal, and medical transition: the movement of abortion from the often-unsafe backrooms to the regulated clinic.
The Jet cover and article also mark Howard’s own transition into legal provision of abortion care, but the magazine doesn’t directly acknowledge Howard’s long history of providing illegal but safe abortions pre-Roe. Before Heather Booth co-founded the Chicago clandestine abortion service commonly known as Jane in the late 1960s, she helped a friend seek an abortion through a group that provided medical services to civil rights activists; they referred the young woman to a doctor who was almost certainly Howard. When Howard parted ways with Jane, he joined forces with the Clergy Consultation Service, a referral service through which he performed hundreds, maybe thousands, of abortions.
Howard is one of the most significant civil rights leaders to fly under the history radar—though his story is well-documented in Black Maverick, a biography by husband-and-wife team David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito. As an insurance salesman in Mississippi, Howard gave young (future civil rights activist) Medgar Evers his first job. In 1951, he founded the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, a civil rights organization that called for economic boycotts before the Montgomery bus boycotts. He packed civil rights rallies with his fiery rhetoric, and some anointed him a civil rights leader to watch. The Klan watched him, too, especially as he led efforts to uncover the truth behind the murder of fourteen-year-old lynching victim Emmett Till; he enraged J. Edgar Hoover with his full-throated condemnation of a U.S. government that half-heartedly investigated Deep South violence—when it deigned to investigate at all. And, finally, Howard led the segregated, Black National Medical Association when the group began clamoring for hospital integration.
Yet Howard didn’t just belong to the civil rights movement. Like Black physicians and midwives before him, he belonged also to the abortion rights movement. In his inimitable and controversial way, Howard pointed out in Jet that abortion could be safe, legal, and even convenient; he proposed the “lunch hour abortion”—in which a woman could have a complications-free procedure and return to her desk in a jiffy. He countered Black militants’ charges that abortion is “Black genocide” with a broader social critique: “You see, genocide takes many forms. A malnourished body caused by a lack of food is genocide. A slum apartment infested with rats and poison paint peeling is genocide. Bad school which plunge [sic] Blacks into a dismal economic plight is genocide.”
It seems that nobody likes an inveterate and unapologetic boundary crosser. Howard, who died in 1976, isn’t in the canon of civil rights leadership, probably because he differed with movement heroes such as Thurgood Marshall, was a notorious philanderer—and provided abortions (and unapologetically made money from them). Yet neither is he remembered in the standard pro-choice narratives.
Dr. T.R.M. Howard was many things—entrepreneur, physician, and a civil rights rabble-rouser. For the pro-choice activist, he is a loud reminder that all abortion activism did not emerge from a mainly white mainstream feminism. For Black communities, often labeled as staunchly anti-choice, Howard’s history points to how central African Americans have always been to the fight to maintain reproductive freedom. For a civil rights movement that has focused on “big men” and still far too few women, Howard’s career demonstrates how civil rights and women’s rights can and did converge.
Image: JET Magazine
The post T.R.M. Howard: Civil Rights Rabble-Rouser, Abortion Provider appeared first on RH Reality Check.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arkansas, and the Center for Reproductive Rights appeared in court Friday to ask a federal judge to prevent an Arkansas law that would ban abortions starting at 12 weeks of pregnancy from taking effect. Following arguments, Judge Susan Webber ruled from the bench and temporarily blocked the law from taking effect, ruling that the ban cannot take effect while the legal challenge to the law proceeds.
The law was passed in March when the Arkansas legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto. The ban is set to take effect on August 16.
“This law is an extreme example of how lawmakers around the country are trying to limit a woman’s ability to make the best decision for herself and her family,” Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement. “Far from safeguarding women’s health, these laws are designed with one purpose—to eliminate all access to abortion care.”
The ruling came just two days after Judge Webber rejected efforts by the state to dismiss the legal challenge on a variety of grounds, including arguments by state attorneys that doctors and patients must wait for the ban to take effect before they have sufficient legal challenge to sue. “We have asked the court to stop this dangerous law from going into effect,” Holly Dickson, legal director for the ACLU of Arkansas, said in a statement. “This law is aimed at allowing politicians to insert themselves into deeply personal and private medical care and decisions for which they should have no say.”
The Arkansas abortion law is one of the most extreme in the nation, surpassed only by the recently enacted North Dakota measure banning abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy, before many women even know they are pregnant.
“Today’s decision ensures that the women of Arkansas will remain protected from this blatant unconstitutional assault on their health and fundamental reproductive rights,” Nancy Northrup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “Such an extreme ban on abortion would have immediate and devastating consequences for women in Arkansas, especially those who could not afford to travel out of state to access reproductive health care. We are confident that the court will continue to uphold women’s constitutional right to make their own decisions about their pregnancies and ultimately strike down this harmful law permanently.”
The physicians are represented by Stephanie Toti, senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, Talcott Camp at the ACLU, and Bettina Brownstein and Holly Dickson with the ACLU of Arkansas.
Image: State of Arkansas
The post Arkansas Judge Temporarily Blocks State’s 12-Week Abortion Ban appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Days after Dr. Kermit Gosnell was convicted of first-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, anti-choice groups Operation Rescue and Life Dynamics are drawing attention to a Houston abortion clinic where they say the “next Gosnell” has been practicing. In response, the lieutenant governor of Texas has launched a new investigation into the doctor, who was already investigated earlier this year, with no evidence of wrongdoing found at that time.
The groups accuse Dr. Douglas Karpen of performing illegal abortions, of ending the life of viable fetuses, and of improperly charging patients for services. They have made public video testimony from former clinic workers and an undercover video that one former employee “smuggled out” of the clinic. In addition, former employee Deborah Edge wrote an opinion article for LifeNews.com supporting the allegations and discussing how she left the clinic with the help of former abortion clinic worker turned anti-choice speaker and activist Abby Johnson.
The complaints against Karpen were investigated and dismissed earlier this year by the Texas Medical Board, which noted in a February 8 letter provided by Operation Rescue that “there was insufficient evidence to prove that a violation of the Medical Practices Act occurred. Specifically, this investigation determined that Dr. Karpen did not violate the laws connected with the practice of medicine and there is no evidence of inappropriate behavior.”
Amid pressure from abortion opponents following the public release of the allegations against Karpen, the state has opened the case back up for further review. According to one blogger for the Houston Chronicle, “Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson’s office finally contacted [Operation Rescue's Troy Newman] this morning, after [the Operation Rescue report] was published and hundreds of people called Anderson’s office.”
The Christian Post reports that Republican Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has announced a new investigation into Karpen’s clinic and procedures, saying Harris County authorities would be looking into the accusations.
The post Anti-Choice Activists Push for Texas Abortion Provider to Be Re-Investigated appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, more than a million people have fled, causing a refugee crisis of enormous magnitude. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), upwards of 3,000 Syrians a day have registered as asylum seekers in neighboring Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey. The lion’s share of these refugees—between 300,000 and 400,000—have ended up in Jordan, with approximately 30 percent of the total settling in the Al Zaatari refugee camp and 70 percent moving into host communities throughout the country. UNFPA further estimates that three-quarters of the refugees are women and children.
By all accounts, displaced Syrians are encountering grim conditions, with overt violence, supply shortages, and filth more the rule than the exception.
The Al Zaatari refugee camp, administered by the UN High Commission for Refugees, was built to accommodate 60,000 people, but there may be as many as 120,000 refugees there now, according to the New York Times. Yifat Susskind, executive director of MADRE, was in Jordan and visited the Al Zaatari camp in mid-April.
“Jordan is a highly functioning state, but it is resource stressed, especially for water,” Susskind told RH Reality Check. “Syrian refugees are putting a huge strain on the population, and tensions have developed. For example, Syria is a beautiful, green country with adequate fresh water, so it does not have a culture of conservation. One of the big issues in the camp is that refugees are protesting the amount of their daily water ration. At the same time, water-strapped Jordanians are beginning to resent camp residents who they perceive as having easy access to all the water they need.”
In addition, Jordanians are fearful that the Syrian influx will inflame already pervasive problems, including deforestation, soil erosion, desertification, and the overgrazing of land.
Even more daunting are safety concerns. Al Zaatari’s toilets are unlit so many woman are terrified to use them at night, and there is a need for more routine health-care services, including basics like adequate access to sanitary pads, and ongoing educational programs for youth. Although UNFPA reports that it provided reproductive health services to more than 3,600 women in the camp during two weeks in early April, Susskind said that there are nonetheless barriers that need to be addressed, among them the distance between the health center and the location of many people’s temporary housing. “The camp is so large that it can take an hour and 15 minutes to walk to the area where services are offered,” she said.
“For women who are in the last months of pregnancy, who are sick, or who have just delivered a baby, this location poses a terrible hardship,” Susskind said. “There has been talk of trying to raise money for a shuttle bus, but this has not yet happened.”
Despite this criticism, Susskind is quick to commend UNFPA for its valiant efforts. Still, as she spoke, she shook her head at the enormity of the issues facing aid workers each day.
Dealing with survivors of sexual trauma or rape is even more problematic, she continued: “We know that rape and domestic violence always increase in times of war and displacement, and we know that many of the women became refugees after being raped or out of fear that sexual violence would be perpetrated against them or their family members.”
She went on, “There is no way to estimate the number or refugees who have been raped or sexually abused, and it is really clear that this is a topic the women won’t talk about. Syrian refugees have a lot of disincentives to keep them from coming forward to talk about these issues. They live in a culture where honor killing is practiced and where the blame and shame of rape is placed exclusively on them.” This means that crisis counseling teams need to be attuned to the signs of trauma that typically appear in survivors, from the inability to bond with a newborn to disassociation to overt clinical depression.
Women Under Siege Director Lauren Wolfe, writing in The Atlantic, calls Syria “a nation of traumatized survivors,” and notes that men as well as women have been violated by government forces and plainclothes militia in a campaign meant to humiliate, intimidate, and ultimately stifle resistance to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
What’s more, overwrought and fearful families have pushed girls as young as 13 into arranged—some would call them forced—marriages. In more than a few instances, this has unwittingly placed them in the hands of traffickers; in other cases, it has meant moving adolescent girls far from their families, isolating them from everyone they have ever known.
Meanwhile, the number of refugees keeps growing as more and more people opt to leave Syria, on foot and by paying drivers to transport them across borders that may eventually be closed. While humanitarian groups such as Handicap International, the Jordanian Red Crescent, Mercy Corps, and UNICEF are working to provide supplies to this diaspora, the specific needs of women and girls all too often fall through the cracks. Code Pink and MADRE, among other feminist groups, are working to address and meet female needs; they recently teamed up to purchase 350 solar lanterns so that at least some of the women in Al Zaatari can be more relaxed about walking in the camp after dark. They are also fundraising to train midwives to counsel women who show signs of sexual abuse and trauma.
The post Stoking Fire: Addressing the Specific Needs of Female Syrian Refugees appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Although technology was, on one hand, a tool maliciously used for prolonging the harm done by the now-infamous Steubenville, Ohio, rape (via texts, tweets and shared photos), it was, on the other hand, also where public outcry fueled the case that ultimately saw the two teenage perpetrators convicted in March. And, once again, frustrated justice-seekers are turning to the web to try and affect change in Steubenville—this time in the form of petitions to have the high school’s football coach, Reno Saccoccia, fired.
During the rape trial against two of Saccoccia’s players, 17-year-old Trent Mays and 16-year-old Ma’lik Richmond, text messages and witness testimonies suggested that the coach was told about the August incident in which Mays and Richmond sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl who was passed out after a night of drinking.
One text sent by Mays and read at the trial by a state investigator, said, “I got Reno. He took care of it and sh– ain’t gonna happen, even if they did take it to court.” Another text suggested that the coach had joked about the assault with the player.
In a town where football rules supreme and the winning coach is a local idol, it may not come as a surprise that Saccoccia continues to be employed at the school despite this information. But last month, the Steubenville school board extended his contract as director of administrative services for another two years—suggesting that a winning football coach can be rewarded for such behavior. (His five-year football-coaching contract, which he’s three years into, is separate.) NEWS9 in Ohio spoke to Superintendent Michael McVey, who said that the extension of Saccoccia’s administrative contract had nothing to do with his coaching position.
This decision, which reeks of a lenient “boys will be boys” attitude that feeds rape culture, has not gone over well online, where others have had to become watchdogs for Steubenville’s apparent ignorance of how to handle a rape.
A grand jury convened on April 30 to look into the rape case further. The jury was adjourned for three weeks on Thursday, May 2, to allow investigators to conduct further interviews and analyze more evidence. Ohio has a law on the books that makes it a crime not to report a felony, such as a rape, which could implicate those who witnessed the incident, knew about it and/or circulated evidence of it. How much Saccoccia knew and what he may have done or not done about it could come to light in the investigation.
In the meantime, there are some who continue to come to the coach’s defense—as of this writing, 734 people had signed a petition on Change.org called “The Big Red Nation: Stand up and support Coach Reno Saccoccia.” About a month ago, one signatory left a comment saying,
Coach Reno has been a cornerstone of this community for three decades. He is responsible for a legacy that is now respected on a national level. His integrity should not be called into question, due to the irresponsible behavior of two (or more) individuals. At the end of the day, he has always been about the success, discipline and well-being of the student athlete.
The irony of the latter part of that remark—that Saccoccia “has always been about the … well-being of the student athlete”—is that, while attempting to defend the coach, the commenter further proves where the priorities in Steubenville may lie: with the athletes, not with anyone who may jeopardize the team. The situation isn’t unique: This is just the latest in a long line of examples of sexual assault being covered up in athletic circles (Jerry Sandusky, anyone?). As CBS local reporter Tim Baffoe in Chicago writes in his recent satirical piece about the almighty football coach’s continued employment, the issue of unaddressed sexual assault in sports persists because “we love sports more than we love rape. Or hate rape. Whichever.”
However, legions more people are turning to online petitions to demand that Saccoccia be sacked.
More than 136,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org that directs the simple plea “Remove Reno Saccoccia from his position at Steubenville High School” to Superintendent McVey and Daniel Ross of the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA). The petition was amended after its creation to include OHSAA, arguing that Saccoccia has violated OHSAA bylaws by not reporting what his players appear to have divulged to him.
Another, this one on the pro-women’s movement petition site UltraViolet, cropped up in late April in response to the school board’s extension of Saccoccia’s administrative contract.
The entreaty, titled “Seriously, Steubenville?!? Fire Coach Saccoccia,” reads:
It’s unacceptable to extend the contract of a coach who took two months to punish team members who raped a 16-year-old girl, and who may have even helped them cover up the crime. The world is still watching Steubenville, we’re still angry, and we want Coach Saccoccia fired.
According to UltraViolet co-founder Shaunna Thomas, the petition has gathered more than 78,000 signatures since it was started on Wednesday, April 24. A joint effort with Credo Action, UltraViolet’s petition is the latest in their effort to mobilize people via technology in order to “create a cost for sexism,” says Thomas.
Among their many victories since launching in February 2012, UltraViolet’s recent petition against Reebok-sponsored rapper Rick Ross, who had lyrics about raping a woman, garnered almost 100,000 supporters and helped lead to Reebok’s dismissal of Ross.
UltraViolet turned the spotlight on Steubenville in January with a petition to the attorney general asking that the rapists be prosecuted and by creating a moving billboard that read, “The World Is Watching.” Says Thomas,
Steubenville seemed like an important moment and a really important opportunity for us to demonstrate that what happened in Steubenville is not unique. It is representative of a rape culture that you can find anywhere in our country. If something like that can happen there, it can happen where you live.
We were trying to expose what was going on there to make it difficult for them to let these boys fly. They were setting an example that you can rape an unconscious girl and get away with it.
Thomas hopes that after the grand jury investigation there won’t be the need for Steubenville-related actions, but says UltraViolet is prepared to keep the spotlight on the case as long as is necessary.
Army Lieutenant Colonel Darin Haas was arrested around 6:30 pm Wednesday night when his ex-wife called the authorities after receiving threatening text messages that violated her order of protection against Haas. Later that night Haas turned himself in and was charged with stalking and violating an order of protection. Haas was responsible for Fort Campbell’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention and Equal Opportunity programs and has since been removed from his position. Haas was set to retire from the army and his replacement will take over his role immediately.
According to the Leaf Chronicle, Army officials are waiting to see the result of the civilian case before determining if any further action is needed.
Haas’ arrest comes a few days after the Department of Defense announced an investigation of an Army Sergeant 1st class who served as the Sexual Harassment/Assault Result Prevention (SHARP) Coordinator and Equal Opportunity Advisor at Fort Hood in Texas on charges of “pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates.” Last week, an Air Force official responsible for sexual assault prevention and response was arrested for sexual battery. According to the Arlington Police Department, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffery Krusinski groped a woman in a parking. She fought him off when he attempted to grab her again and immediately alerted the police. An anonymous spokesperson for the Air Force confirmed that Krusinski had been dismissed from his post in response to the allegations.
Media Resources: Leaf Chronicle 5/16/2013; Stars and Stripes 5/16/2013; Feminist Newswire 5/15/2013, 5/7/2013
138/365 Frustrated from Flickr
The “Human Heartbeat Protection Act,” or Act 301, bans abortion once a human heartbeat is detected using a standard abdominal ultrasound, usually at 12 weeks gestation. The bill was passed into law when the state legislature voted to override the governor’s veto. The ACLU and Center for Reproductive Rights have filed a lawsuit on behalf of two doctors in the state who are challenging the constitutionality of the pre-viability ban. They have also filed a request to block the enforcement of the ban while their lawsuit is pending. If no injunction is granted, the bill will take affect after August 16, 2013.
Earlier this month, the Attorney General for the state of Arkansas filed a motion to dismiss the case. However, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright rejected their motion, stating that the doctors had provided a strong enough case to proceed with the lawsuit. In her ruling on the dismissal, she wrote, “The court finds at this pleading stage, plaintiffs have demonstrated a realistic danger of sustaining a direct injury as a result of Act 301′s operation or enforcement, and they have presented a justiciable controversy that is ripe for review.”
If a doctor terminates a pregnancy after 12 weeks that is not a result of rape, incest, or is to save the life of the mother, they could potentially lose their license. Opponents of the ban continued in her ruling, “Accepting these allegations as true, as the court must do at this juncture, the court finds that plaintiffs have alleged facts sufficient to state a claim that the provision of Act 301 that prohibits abortions at 12 weeks gestation when a fetal heartbeat is detected impermissibly infringes a woman’s Fourteenth Amendment right to choose to terminate a pregnancy before viability.”
A hearing is scheduled for today to determine whether or not to grant the plaintiffs’ request to block enforcement. The case is Edwards v. Beck, 13-cv-00224, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Arkansas.
Media Resources: Bloomberg 5/17/2013; Log Cabin Democrat 5/16/2013; Associated Press 5/15/2013; Feminist Newswire 5/8/2013
Arkansas graphic from Shutterstock
Good morning, whatcha reading? Here's our list:
• Prosecutors in the Cleveland kidnapping case are weighing whether to charge Ariel Castro with feticide for intentionally causing Michelle Knight, one of his captives, to miscarry several pregnancies. From a reproductive-justice standpoint, this could set a dangerous precedent. [The Daily Beast]
Of course you’ve heard that actor/director Angelina Jolie went public this week with an op-ed piece in The New York Times about her decision to undergo a double mastectomy in the wake of finding out that she is positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation, which dramatically increases her risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
The news has generated a staggering amount of media attention, with bloggers and medical experts and pundits of all stripes weighing in on Jolie’s decision. The overwhelming reaction to the news seems to be one of support and admiration for a highly public figure who’s been forthright enough to go public with a very personal story in the hopes of raising awareness about BRCA and women’s options in the face of it, and confident enough to assert that her surgery (which included breast reconstruction) will not in any way detract from her success in the film industry, her role as a parent to six children, or—let’s face it—her status as a contemporary icon of female sexuality and beauty.
There has been been, rightly, a sizable amount of grumbling about inequalities in health care coverage: The genetic test for BRCA alone costs in the range of $4,000, which puts it far beyond affordable for the average citizen, especially those without health insurance to cover the test. Prophylactic mastectomy and reconstruction cost many times that, arguably making these procedures the purview of the 1 percent. The discussion has also brought to light that a private company, Myriad Genetics, holds the patents to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations and can therefore exclusively dictate the testing options (and price) for women who potentially have the gene, as well as research into it. (A case before the U.S. Supreme Court is challenging these patents, with a decision expected in June.)
What I haven’t seen, however, in my admittedly inexhaustive review of the reactions to Jolie’s disclosure, is much in the way of discussion about another surgery the actor/director alludes to: oophorectomy, or the (preventive) surgical removal of her ovaries. Jolie notes that she has a 50 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer. “I started with my breasts,” she says, “as my risk of breast cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex.”
It would seem that Jolie is planning to have her ovaries removed at some point, in a procedure that, while less medically complicated than her breast surgery, is—in my opinion at least—equally, if not more, significant.
And my question is this: In the event that Angelina Jolie has her ovaries (and likely her uterus) removed, will we care as much as we do about her breasts?
Oophorectomy, while not as readily “visible” as mastectomy, is a radical procedure, thrusting women into immediate surgical menopause. In addition to the obvious negation of fertility, the sudden and dramatic change in hormone levels can have several side effects, including changes to sex drive and function, metabolism, mood, bone density and muscle mass, and cognitive function. The surgery and its potential effects are a big deal—but we wouldn’t know that by the amount of ink and bandwidth devoted to it in relation to Jolie.
Maybe that’s because Jolie’s oophorectomy is only a hazy future event, while her breast surgery is here and now. Maybe it’s because her risk of breast cancer is higher than ovarian cancer.
But I’m not so sure. I think that our focus on Jolie’s breasts as opposed to her ovaries speaks volumes about the ways in which we continue to overvalue the external when it comes to women’s bodies. Put simply, the world is so interested in Angelina Jolie’s breasts because they’re pretty to look at and pleasing to men. (Full disclosure: They are also pleasing to me and, I’m sure to many other women, gay or straight.) Angie Jolie is cutting off her boobs? How brave! Don’t worry, though—she’ll still be as sexy as ever due the miracles of reconstructive surgery! She’ll even get to keep her nipples!
But ovaries? No one sees those. You can’t touch those. You can’t “enhance” (much less restore) them surgically, or click on a button to increase their size the way gamers do with Lara Croft in Tomb Raider (Jolie portrayed the busty Croft her in the 2001 feature film; rumor has it that several Internet “patches” have been designed to remove the character’s clothing in the game). Tucked away inside her body, or removed surgically, Angelina Jolie’s ovaries are about as appealing as her gallbladder.
But ovaries are a crucial part to women’s reproductive, sexual and overall health. With no reliable test to detect it, ovarian cancer is often discovered too late and can be deadly. If and when Angelina Jolie undergoes prophylactic oophorectomy, she may feel no different (or even better) afterwards, and I hope that’s the case. On the other hand, the surgery poses the risk of several significant side effects.
If and when she decides to have the surgery, and if and when she writes about it, let’s hope we care as much as Angelina Jolie’s ovaries we do about her breasts. Because they’re no less an important part of her.
Susan Goldberg is a writer, editor, and blogger based in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She was tested for the BRCA1 mutation after her own mother, a carrier, died after several battles with both breast and ovarian cancer, and created a 2006 radio documentary about the process. You can read more at www.mamanongrata.com.
UPDATE, May 17, 3:35 p.m. EST: Since RH Reality Check published this article, Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, told reporters that he was open to removing the authority to prosecute sex crimes from the chain of command, according to Stars and Stripes, a newspaper for members of the military. That is the remedy that Sen. Kristen Gillibrand’s proposed Military Justice Improvement Act would apply.
Welsh’s remarks put him ahead of many members of Congress; as of May 16, none of the top leaders of either party in the House or Senate had signed on to Gillibrand’s bill. As noted in the article below, Welsh kicked up some dust earlier this month when he blamed the military’s sexual assault crisis on what he called a civilian “hook-up culture.” His newly articulated position on military justice reform also came on the heels of yet another arrest of a military sexual abuse prevention officer, Army Lt. Col. Darren Haas, who was charged with violating a restraining order obtained by his ex-wife.
Pressure is mounting on Capitol Hill for a meaningful answer to the crisis of sexual assault in the U.S. military. In response, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) hosted a press conference Thursday to promote legislation that would remove from the chain of command in the nation’s armed forces the reporting and adjudication of sexual crimes, along with other felonies that are not specifically military in nature.
Last week, the Pentagon released its latest report on sexual assault, and many lawmakers have expressed fury that sexual crimes against active duty members of the armed forces escalated by some 37 percent over the previous year’s estimate. The situation only got worse after the lieutenant in charge of the Air Force’s sexual assault reporting operation was arrested for sexual battery of a civilian, and a subsequent news report revealed several complaints of rape against military recruiters.
While senators and House members, including several Republicans, took the podium to express support for Gillibrand’s proposed bill, leaders of both parties and chambers have yet to sign on to a measure that is sure to meet with fierce resistance among military brass. (See our earlier story on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s remarks on the Gillibrand measure.)
Nonetheless, Gillibrand told RH Reality Check, she hoped to build enough support within the Senate Armed Services Committee to include her proposal in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual law that sets the budget and expenditures, as well as other requirements, for the Department of Defense.
“[T]oo often, these brave men and women find themselves in the fight of their lives not off on some far-away battlefield, but right here on our own soil, within their own ranks and commanding officers, as victims of horrific acts of sexual violence,” Gillibrand said.
Susan Collins, a Republican supporter of Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act, reiterated her claim that “our women soldiers sometimes have more to fear from their fellow soldiers than from the enemy,” a point she first made at a 2004 hearing on sexual assault in the military, only to have Gen. George Casey interject that he believed her statement to be “absolutely and fundamentally” untrue. (Casey, who went on to become the U.S. Army chief of staff, has since retired from the military.) Collins’ staff passed out excerpts from the transcript of the 2004 hearing.
Gillibrand also introduced her audience to three military veterans who said they suffered punishment from the military when they reported having been the victims of sex crimes perpetrated against them by their comrades.
Jennifer Norris, a former sergeant in the Air Force Reserve, was accompanied to the press conference by a service dog who, she says, assists her with the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) she experiences because of assaults by four different perpetrators during her military career. (You can read her harrowing story here.) Norris’ military career ended, she writes, when her security clearance was revoked for having a PTSD diagnosis. Today she works as a victim advocate at the Military Rape Crisis Center, a non-profit organization that offers support to those who suffer sexual abuse while serving in the military.
As she sat in the front row at the press conference, Norris’ eyes began to overflow with tears, causing Sen. Barbara Boxer, who was then at the podium, to remark, “I hope those are tears of hope.”
Norris affirmed that they were, saying that she was moved because she never thought she’d see the day when such change as that proposed by Gillibrand could take place.
Not that she thinks attitudes have changed all that much at the top. Citing the remarks of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh at a Senate hearing earlier this month, Norris said: “I want to make it clear to Gen. Welsh that blaming a civilian ‘hook-up culture’ for the epidemic does nothing but contribute to victim-blaming—excusing perpetrators—and it belittles the serious nature of these crimes.”
“I’ve pretty much dealt with my own stuff,” Norris told RH Reality Check after the press conference. “It’s the people that I’m working with currently—the reasons [they hesitate to come forward]—that breaks my heart. The same stuff that happened to me all that many years ago is happening to this day. What I would like to say to each and every senator and representative that doesn’t sign onto this bill is: ‘Work one day in my job, and you will hear every day how bad things really are.’”
Also recounting their experiences of sexual assault were former Army sergeant Ayana Harrell and former Navy petty officer Brian Lewis, who said that when he reported having been raped, he was diagnosed with a mental disorder and given a discharge from the service that prevented him from collecting such benefits as those offered under the GI Bill.
Harrell says she was drugged and gang-raped at the Redstone Arsenal Base, became pregnant from the assault, and was determined by the military to have “a personality disorder” after she reported the crime.
The problem of rape culture in the military is not unique to the U.S., but other countries—including the United Kingdom, Israel and Australia—have addressed the problem by removing the reporting and prosecution of such crimes from the chain of command. Too often, victims of sexual assault have suffered retribution for reporting crimes perpetrated against them, especially when the attacks are made by superior officers, while others have seen convictions of their attackers overturned by commanding officers, who currently have that authority.
Yet congressional leaders seem loath to take on military brass. RH Reality Check asked Gillibrand to respond to Sen. Reid’s apparent reluctance to sign on to her bill.
“All of us who support this bill—our job now is to begin to talk to more colleagues,” Gillibrand said, noting that there is no “quick fix” what she called an “epidemic,” as well as a “cultural challenge and structural problem.”
The senator from New York noted that there are other “complementary” measures that may be included in a base mark-up bill, including a proposal by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that would improve record-keeping of sexual assault complaints, and one co-sponsored by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) that would provide greater resources to victims.
After the press conference, I asked Anu Bhagwati, a military veteran and executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), why she thought there was such resistance to removing matters involving sexual assault from the chain of command within the military justice system.
“I think military tradition is something that is hard to change,” Bhagwati said. “We’re talking about a legal structure that has been in place for 250 years, and it has no meaning anymore. We have so many troops who are being harmed by this justice system, or lack-of-justice system, that we need to change it.”
Gillibrand’s allies on this legislation include Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Mazie Hirano (D-HI), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT),and Mike Johanns (R-NE), as well as Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Dan Benishek (R-MI), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and others.
The post Gillibrand Builds Bipartisan Support for Change of Military Justice Code (UPDATED) appeared first on RH Reality Check.
For four years, reporters swarmed the ancient Italian town of Perugia, wrestling one another like dogs to be the first to break each rumor in the titillating murder case of British woman Meredith Kercher. In the vapid analysis of most news bites, headline painted roommate Amanda Knox as a perfect girl-next-door with a dark side: a vengeful seductress killer.
Last fall, researchers in Missouri caught the attention of public health experts and advocates across North America. Some 9,000 St. Louis women had been offered their choice of contraceptives for free in a study that has since been called an “Obamacare simulation.” Two years later, the teen pregnancy rate was at 6 per 1,000 instead of the U.S. average of 34. The abortion rate was less than half the rate of other St. Louis women.
Why did they get such dramatic results? The free birth control triggered a technology shift in a microcosm. When presented with simple, accurate information and a buffet of no-cost options, a majority of the study’s participants, almost 75 percent, switched from old contraceptive technologies like the Pill, condoms and other barrier methods like cervical caps to state-of-the-art “long acting reversible contraceptives” (LARCs).
Unintended pregnancy rates in the U.S. have not gone down for decades, hovering around half of all conceptions. Now, health advocates and community health agencies are eyeing a potential technology tipping point that could radically change the equation. What would it take to make the St. Louis results the new norm? And what might that mean for Cascadia, the nickname given to the Pacific Northwest where I live?
If a set of things go right, Cascadia could become the St. Louis experiment writ large. But there are a number of ifs. If the Northwest states and Washington, D.C., implement the Affordable Care Act’s provisions for mandatory free contraception—not exempting a patchwork of procedures or employer health plans. If better information about state-of-the-art contraception flows from experts through primary care “gatekeepers” to youth and women. If conversations about LARC methods become standard practice in adolescent medicine and maternity care. If access points in community and school-based clinics are expanded. And if state and provincial governments protect family planning services when making near-term budget cuts.
If we in Cascadia meet these conditions, and long acting contraceptives become the norm, the region’s unintended pregnancy rates among teens and adult women will plummet, budgetary pressure will ease, and more parents and children will flourish. Oh, and the abortion rate will fall, too.
Currently Washington has an unintended pregnancy rate of 48 percent, close to the national average. Oregon’s rate is almost identical. These pregnancies add to public medical costs. In 2006, Oregon spent $72 million on births from unintended pregnancies. But the public costs don’t begin or end at birth. In Washington, during fiscal 2012, Medicaid paid $700 million for prenatal, delivery and infant care. When surveyed by the state’s Department of Health, approximately half of the women who received this care said that they would have preferred to get pregnant later or not at all.
Mostly, by the time “go-with-the-flow” babies like these arrive, their families welcome and love them. But some unintended pregnancies stack the odds against both children and parents. Maternal drinking or poor nutrition in the weeks right before and after conception may increase birth defects. Even families of healthy babies may struggle to stretch resources like time and money and space and emotional energy. When parents get too depleted, marriages can strain or break. Poor families may not be able to afford the same level of education for four kids as three or two. In many cases, families find the resources. They adjust and adapt and get help, and kids flourish. But in other cases, they don’t get help, and kids and parents alike flounder. Adding one more Jenga block to a precarious stack crashes the whole thing—and kids get neglected or rejected or abused.
During the teen years in particular, unplanned childbearing can have far-reaching consequences for a mother and her children, and for their community. Each year in King County, Wash., alone, 15- to 17-year-old girls give birth to more than 300 babies. That’s enough kids, once a few years have passed, to keep several primary schools full. Those children come into the world with the odds stacked against them. Most will grow up in poverty. Fewer than half of their mothers will finish high school, and only 2 percent will get a college degree by age 30. A disproportionate number will experience learning or mental health problems, or end up as teen mothers themselves. Their struggles will contribute to the complicated web of challenges they and their communities face: strained social services, stretched public resources, crime and an education system overwhelmed with special needs.
And King County has one of the lower teen birth rates in Washington State, around 10 per 1,000 girls aged 15-17. The highest county rate in Washington is 55 per 1,000 girls, and the averages for Washington and Oregon are 27 and 28 respectively. (The national average is 34.)
The sheer impact of these numbers on the state budget is daunting, in large part because of the challenges faced by the children of teen mothers. Between 1991 and 2008, approximately 143,000 teens gave birth in Washington, at a taxpayer cost of $3.3 billion. The public tab includes maternal and child health, childhood welfare support and a higher than average rate of incarceration during adolescence and young adulthood.
All of this makes those numbers from St. Louis look particularly interesting at a time when Northwest families and governments are trying to do more with less. Giving women better tools to fulfill their pregnancy intentions—empowering parents so they can decide when they are ready to bring a child into the world—may offer a partial upstream solution to some of the region’s most pressing concerns: affordable health care, better educational outcomes, strong and stable families and balanced budgets.
Valerie Tarico, Ph.D., is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Wash. She is the author of Trusting Doubt and Deas and Other Imaginings and the founder of WisdomCommons.org. Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.