Also: Illinois school district bans The Perks of Being a Wallflower; W.H. Auden's 1939 journal discovered; Bret Easton Ellis on gay stereotypes.
Chimamanda Adichie's Americanah is about a young Nigerian woman who moves to the U.S. It's a story of relocation, far-flung love and life as an outsider. But reviewer Rosecrans Baldwin says that despite the author's talent, much of the storytelling feels flat.
Benjamin Percy's new literary werewolf novel, Red Moon, is packed with vivid, gory-lush description and heavy allegory about a world where "lycans" are a persecuted minority. But reviewer Nick Mancusi says the book gives short shrift to character development.
Chimamanda Adichie's Americanah is about a young Nigerian woman who moves to the U.S. It's a story of relocation, far-flung love and life as an outsider. But reviewer Rosecrans Baldwin says that despite the author's talent, much of the storytelling feels flat.
In 2011, Jessica Buchanan, an aid worker in Somalia, was kidnapped by land pirates. For 93 days she fought off despair while her husband, Erik Landemalm, wondered if he'd ever see her again. In a two-part interview, Buchanan and Landemalm recall Buchanan's capture and her dramatic rescue by Navy SEALs.
Historian Rick Atkinson's new book completes his trilogy on the second world war. He tells NPR's Steve Inskeep that the events of the war may be 70 years in the past, but they're still very much a part of American culture.
[Update: Okay, so I'm a sucker. It's satire. Wishful thinking on my part, I suppose.]
Well, you’ve done it now, Minnesota. You’ve gone and okayed same-sex marriage, and now Michele Bachmann is leaving.
Congresswoman Michele Bachman threatened to leave Minnesota today if the state goes ahead with its plans to legalize gay marriage.
In an interview with a local television station, the conservative firebrand said she believes God will destroy Minneapolis once the legislation is enacted, and wants to be far away when the reckoning happens.
No, don’t go, Michele. Really. Minnesota is begging you. Stay. Well, darn, there she goes.
The North Carolina state senate voted 38-10 Monday on a bill that will list abortion as one of the causes of preterm labor, despite a lack of medical research supporting the claim.
SB 132 was amended in a senate committee late last week. The previous version of the bill stated that abortion causes preterm birth, while the new one lists abortion as a possible cause of preterm birth along with other factors such as smoking, drug use, and lack of prenatal care. Opponents of the bill worry that the revised bill could make the medically inaccurate statement about abortion come across as even more plausible with the addition of scientifically proven issues that can affect the length of a pregnancy. As Paige Johnson, vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina, told RH Reality Check last week, “Abortion does not cause preterm birth, and in fact, not a single national medical organization recognizes a causal link between abortion and preterm birth.”
NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Executive Director Suzanne Buckley agreed. “The amended language of the bill implies that abortion is a scientifically proven to cause pre-term delivery. Top medical authorities (the CDC, the WHO, and the AMA) agree that there is no established link between abortion and pre-term delivery; this bill is more than misleading, it’s political propaganda,” she said in a statement in response to the senate passage of the bill.
SB 132 is one of a series of anti-choice bills meant to curb health-care access for youth. HB 693, a bill that would require parental consent for minors seeking pregnancy diagnosis and prevention and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, mental health issues, and chemical and alcohol dependency, has been fast-tracking through the legislature as politicians attempt to force it though before this week’s legislative deadline. A recent poll found that 83 percent of North Carolina parents consider a teen’s ability to consent to health care in these cases to be “important.”
The post North Carolina Senate Passes Bill to Erroneously List Abortion as a Cause of Preterm Birth appeared first on RH Reality Check.
A&U Magazine celebrates our 22nd year with the announcement of the first annual Christopher Hewitt Literary Award.
Christopher Hewitt Literary Award
This year marks A&U’s first annual contest in fiction, poetry, drama, and creative nonfiction. The winner in each genre will receive a $50 prize and will have his/her work featured in A&U’s annual Summer Reading Issue. Winners will be selected by our editors. If any genre lacks a clear winner, fewer than four awards may be given. All entries will be considered for publication.
A&U is a national HIV/AIDS magazine with a focus on advocacy, prevention and care, and literature and the arts. Our annual Summer Reading Issues have featured cover story interviews with Tony Kushner, Gore Vidal, E. Lynn Harris, and others; each month we publish work by established and emerging writers including Emanuel Xavier, Patrick Donnelly, and Julie E. Bloemeke. For more on A&U visit www.aumag.org.
We have extended our deadline to June 10!!
-All submissions must be related directly or indirectly to HIV/AIDS, including but not limited to personal, historical, international, and political perspectives on HIV/AIDS.
-Poetry can be any length/style; Fiction, Drama, and Creative Nonfiction (includes essays/memoirs) should be no longer than 1200 words. Excerpts from longer works are accepted.
-Email submissions as Word or PDF attachments to aumaglit [at] gmail [dot] com. Include your name and title of the piece(s) in the subject heading of your email, followed by the word “Award.” Do NOT include your name on the manuscript itself.
Multiple submissions accepted. Deadline is June 10, 2013. There is no entry fee.
The things gay men do outside of same-sex sex, the way they are, their subjectivity, are well documented in popular stereotypes, but less so in scholarly writing. Daniel Humphrey, in his new book-length study on the Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman, points out that since Bergman’s films were brought to America in the 1950s, gay men have been watching them in a unique way that was then “foreign” and today seems just as “strange”—two adjectives Humphrey spends a large amount of his book historicizing. Combining theory-heavy formal film analysis and a compelling treatment of urban homophile history, Humphrey enlivens a forgotten mode of Cold War-era queer art-house spectatorship in order to offer up “other ways of being homosexual” that are at once historical and new.
Humphrey situates Bergman and his fans, a pretentious bunch of gay men—“Monica Vitti queers”—as outside of, or foreign to, the well entrenched Stonewall origin myth of gay rebellion. In order to “rethink the history of the entire Cold War-era U.S. gay rights movement” he positions Bergman alongside Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin and Gore Vidal as artists challenging patriarchal heteronormativity before garbage cans met windowpanes at the Stonewall Inn, and he demonstrates in Bergman the development of a sensibility that may not have been marching proudly those days in June 1969.
It’s surprising for any discussion of queer cinema spectatorship to reject Camp sensibilities, but that’s just what Humphrey does. He explains that rather than appreciating Bergman’s films with a Camp sensibility or a “sly understanding” of coded homosexual hidden meanings—the M.O. for many American art house queers consuming Jack Smith, Kenneth Anger, and Warhol with an ever-winking, ever-elitist grin throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s—the Cold War-era queer Bergman spectator was watching the films with a potent “sincerity,” the “paramount value required in any queer engagement with the work of Bergman.”
Humphrey (re)affirms the riches found in sincere cultural consumption so that, though my instinct is to object and scream no, Camp is left with a questionable political value—as it was when Sontag first noted it. Humphrey cites homophile publications of the Cold War-era such as The New York Mattachine Press and the exclusively lesbian publication, The Ladder, to demonstrate that though it has been neglected by queer scholarly writing, foreign art house film was commonplace in homophile writing of the day. Moreover, Humphrey shows that these homophile-cinephile writers did not celebrate a Camp appreciation of Bergman’s films, but called for a sensitive appreciation of his unpopular but serious films. It is this idea of “sincerity” that appears old but new to a modern queer reader. Sincerity might jolt us from our irony-inundated apolitical slumber, sincerity might be a means for self-discovery, but in this time when Camp reigns supreme amongst gays snickering as Mildred Pierce is slapped by her daughter, sincerity is not often thought of as a queer way of being.
As with any formal film analysis, the clammy hands of Freud hang like the proverbial sword over Queer Bergman. Humphrey writes that he hopes to approach familiar theories with “an appropriately queer refusal to commit to a single and unidirectional method,” but his study of Bergman’s films has to trudge through the ever-present Freudian characters before it reaches its queer apex. Humphrey’s queer ingenuity really begins when he starts discussing Bergman’s signature shot: “a shot of one or two characters looking directly into the camera at moments of dramatic intensity.”
The alienating function of the direct address or “look back” is well, well, well documented—I once had a film professor who forbade the words “self-reflexive” or “direct address” in her class on Godard because they are so completely sapped of new ideas—and yet Humphrey’s notion that the shot is a kind of “opposite-gender mirror” (148) startles. With the queer bent I have been waiting for, Humphrey attributes to the “look back” a power that challenges “a filmgoer’s belief in stable gender identification” (151). Moreover, he exalts Bergman and his actors as serving more than the “Marxist revolution” for which alienation techniques like the direct address were initially used; according to Humphrey, Bergman’s uncomfortably long self-reflexive shots affirm a “painful sincerity” that acknowledges gendered identities as constructed, but gendered pain as substantial. It’s a meaningful conclusion to an intensely formal analysis, and it comes at exactly the right moment.
Exploring the past we discover the alterity of our own present, yet in the present we cling to what seem like the new ideas of the past. Humphrey’s work retrieves, through Bergman, sincerity as a forgotten or abandoned queer way of being, and exactly because it is not new, queer readers will be drawn to the potential of this less-celebratory sentiment.
Queer Bergman: Sexuality, Gender, and the European Art Cinema
by Daniel Humphrey
University of Texas Press
Hardcover, 9780292743762, 234 pp.
Ariel Castro was arraigned on four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape after three women and a six-year-old girl were rescued from his dilapidated west Cleveland home. The women told police that Castro had kidnapped them and held them captive for over a decade, subjecting them to frequent rapes and brutal beatings. DNA tests revealed that the child was Castro’s daughter, who had been born and raised in captivity.
Survivor Michelle Knight told police that Castro had impregnated her through rape on at least five occasions, and had starved and beaten her, resulting in the termination of those pregnancies. Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty vowed to charge Castro with aggravated murder for each of those alleged forced miscarriages. He said he would consider whether to bring charges that could carry the death penalty.
Maria Russo, a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office confirmed to RH Reality Check that McGinty intended to bring aggravated murder charges before a grand jury. She added that if the grand jury indicted Castro, McGinty’s office would begin a process to determine whether to pursue the death penalty. She declined to elaborate on the nature of this process.
Many were surprised to learn that Castro could be facing the death penalty for inducing miscarriages, but only life in prison for imprisoning and torturing three women for a decade.
Aggravated murder is equivalent to first-degree murder or capital murder. In Ohio, aggravated murder is either premeditated murder or any murder committed in the course of a kidnapping, rape, or other major violent crime. In 1996, Ohio expanded the definition of “murder” to include the unlawful termination of a pregnancy at any stage of development, from fertilization through birth.
Under Ohio law, the penalty for aggravated murder is death or life in prison. As in all death penalty states, capital punishment is reserved for the most heinous murders. Aggravated murder does not carry the death penalty in Ohio unless the government proves that the offense had at least one aggravating factor. The relevant aggravating factor for Castro, the one that could tip his sentence from life in prison to death, would be the fact that he inflicted these unlawful miscarriages in the course of a kidnapping. (Killing in the course of a kidnapping is both a criterion for aggravated murder and an aggravating factor that makes an aggravated murder punishable by death.)
The law is clear: If Castro terminated McKnight’s pregnancies against her will, he’s guilty of aggravated murder under Ohio law. The question is whether the state can prove that he’s guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Jerome Phillips, a Toledo criminal defense attorney, says the state’s chances at trial depend entirely on the quality of its evidence. In order to convict Castro on a count of aggravated murder, the state must prove that the victim was pregnant and that Castro’s beatings caused her to miscarry. Even if Castro confessed to the beatings, and admitted that he intended to terminate the pregnancies, that wouldn’t necessarily prove that the beatings caused the miscarriages. To make up for the lack of physical evidence, the state could call expert witnesses to testify about the likely effects of starving and beating a pregnant woman, but that might not be enough to secure a conviction. The defense could call its own experts to point out that many women carry to term despite beatings and malnutrition and that many women miscarry spontaneously.
Ohio is one of 38 states with so-called fetal homicide laws. Many of these laws have language that explicitly excludes pregnant women from prosecution for terminating their own pregnancies and/or language that protects legal abortion providers who provide abortions to women seeking to terminate a pregnancy. By national standards, Ohio’s fetal homicide law is one of the more severe, in that it treats the unlawful termination of a pregnancy as homicide beginning at fertilization, and in that the punishment is the same as the murder of a born person. Some states only criminalize the termination of pregnancies either after viability or after quickening.
Criminalizing fetal homicide is not the only way to penalize violence against pregnant women. Some states, like Colorado, frame unlawful interference with a pregnancy as an attack on the pregnant woman, rather than as an offense against the fetus.
Castro’s case is unusual because he could face the death penalty for terminating a pregnancy without having killed a pregnant woman in the process. When the death penalty comes into play in fetal homicide cases, it’s usually in conjunction with the murder of a pregnant woman. Scott Peterson sits on death row in California because he killed his pregnant wife, which counted as two murders because she was eight-months pregnant. The fact that Peterson was deemed to have killed two victims at once made him eligible for death as opposed to life in prison. Jody Ard spent 11 years on South Carolina’s death row for fatally shooting his pregnant girlfriend and thereby ending her pregnancy. Ard wouldn’t have faced the death penalty for killing his girlfriend if she hadn’t been pregnant. Happily for Ard, new evidence came to light that he didn’t murder his girlfriend after all, and he was freed in 2012 after a new trial.
The prospect of a death sentence for the unlawful termination of a pregnancy raises important constitutional questions. In general, it’s considered cruel and unusual punishment and therefore a violation of the Eighth Amendment to put someone to death for anything less than murder. For example, states can’t sentence people to death for rape because a death sentence is considered to be a disproportionate punishment.
Ohio has redefined “murder” to include the unlawful termination of a pregnancy, but Ohio can only pass laws that are consistent with the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that a fetus is not a person under the 14th Amendment, and therefore does not have a right to life. Murder is punished severely because the murderer violates the victim’s right to life. One might argue that it is therefore disproportionate for Ohio to execute someone for destroying an entity that has no right life of its own. Such a case might also give anti-choice groups a long-awaited opportunity to argue that the proliferation of tough laws against unlawful terminations prove that our society values fetuses as human beings and that our interpretation of the Constitution must change accordingly.
If Castro were convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death, the case could spark constitutional challenges that would drag on for years. The courts would be deluged with amicus briefs from all sides the debates over abortion and the death penalty. The suffering of the victims and the crimes of the perpetrator would be eclipsed by the pitched legal battle.
Lynn Paltrow of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, an advocacy group that tracks legislation affecting the rights of pregnant women, says that fetal homicide laws are invariably passed in response to incidents of terrible violence or gross negligence against pregnant women. (Ohio’s criminal code was amended to include unlawful termination of pregnancy after a drunk driver struck and killed a pregnant woman.) However, Paltrow notes that these laws are often used to criminalize the conduct of pregnant women for stigmatized behaviors like drug use and suicide attempts. In her view, the controversy over whether Castro will be charged with murder is deflecting attention from the problem that fetal homicide laws were ostensibly created to address: the epidemic of violence against pregnant women. She notes that despite the proliferation of fetal homicide laws, no study has shown that these laws reduce violence against pregnant women.
It’s not clear whether Ariel Castro will ever stand trial. The 52-year-old has already confessed to enough counts of kidnapping and rape to put him behind bars for the rest of his life. Prosecutor McGinty may be holding up the death penalty as a ploy to encourage Castro to plead guilty and spare the victims the agony of a trial. Even if Castro won’t plead guilty, McGinty should pay careful attention to the wishes of the victims before proceeding with the aggravated murder charges. A capital murder trial will be a much more time-consuming and laborious endeavor than a trial on rape and kidnapping charges alone. The victims will have to testify at greater length and endure more grueling cross examination about their abuse. Even then, convictions for aggravated murder aren’t guaranteed. In his zeal for justice, McGinty should always keep the desires of the victims front-and-center.
Image: CNN / YouTube
The post Ariel Castro Could Face Murder Charges for Terminating Victim’s Pregnancies appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Welcome to another recap of Mad Men. This week, it's all about newness, and weirdness, and drunkenness, and margarine. Peggy returns to the hallowed halls of the former Sterling Cooper Draper Campbell, Ted Chaough reveals himself to be both an amusingly bacon-focused drunk and an ace small-plane pilot, and Bob Benson finally makes himself useful. In other news, that poor Kennedy boy gets shot. Join us, won't you?
On Tuesday, Star Parker, founder and president of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE), along with several anti-choice organizations, will hold a press conference to discuss the impact of the Kermit Gosnell case on Black America, in what will surely be yet another opportunity for the “fetus first” crowd to wring their hands and feign concern about the plight of Black Americans.
The Gosnell lawsuit fallout has been a boondoggle for fetus enthusiasts. The fact that Gosnell is Black and that he was serving a predominantly Black community has led to the expected rhetorical boxing match: Anti-choicers cast Planned Parenthood as monstrous perpetrators of Black genocide who have set up shop in “the ‘hood” to ethnically cleanse Black people out of existence, while those of us who reside in the reality-based world counterpunch with facts and statistics about how, in fact, only one in ten abortion clinics are located in predominantly Black communities.
Black genocide simply isn’t a thing that is happening in the United States, though this meme has been floating around anti-choice circles for years. White anti-choice organizations failed to make it stick, so they enlisted a handful of Black folks to help spread the message in the Black community in what Paris Hatcher, director of Spark Reproductive NOW, calls “tokenized leaders within a White movement floating an agenda.”
Who better to float the white anti-choice agenda than Star Parker, with a helpful assist from white-backed anti-choice organizations like Protecting Black Life (which is a front for the very white and very conservative Life Issues Institute, founded by Dr. Jack Willke). After all, Parker used to be one of those “welfare queens” that President Reagan warned everyone about, before she reinvented herself as a conservative author and speaker and president of an organization purportedly dedicated to “jumpstarting a national dialogue on race and poverty.”
Remember when Ann Coulter claimed “our Blacks are better than their Blacks?” Star Parker is one of those “good Blacks.” She’s so good, that in her capacity as president of an “urban renewal” organization, she dutifully parrots lies popularized by conservative white anti-choicers. Here’s Parker writing for Town Hall, with commentary appended:
According to the Centers for Disease Control, blacks accounted for 35.4 percent of abortions performed in 2009, despite representing, according to the 2010 census, just 13.6 percent of the US population.
Let’s not be deluded that this is an accident.
Analysis of 2010 census data by an initiative called Protecting Black Life shows that 79 percent of Planned Parenthood abortion clinics are located in walking distance of minority neighborhoods – 62 percent within 2 miles of primarily black neighborhoods and 64 percent of Hispanic/Latino neighborhoods. [The claim that most abortion clinics are in Black and Latino neighborhoods is false and does not become more true the more you repeat it. -Ed.]
Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, systematically targets minority women for abortion. [No it doesn't. -Ed.]
In 1957, Mike Wallace interviewed Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, and asked her if she believed in sin.
Sanger, whose racist and eugenicist views are well documented, replied, “I believe the biggest sin in the world is parents bringing children into the world that have disease from their parents, that have no chance in the world to be a human being practically. Delinquents, prisoners, all sorts of things just marked when they are born.” [The "Margaret Sanger was a racist and eugenicist" canard has been debunked, repeatedly. Stop it. -Ed.]
It is a sign of these dismally confused times that it was our first black president, Barack Obama, who, last week, became the first sitting American president to address Planned Parenthood.
In his address, the President did not use the word “abortion” once, nor was there a single reference to the current trial and murder charges against Philadelphia abortion Doctor Kermit Gosnell. [Abortions comprise 3 percent of the health services that Planned Parenthood offers; moreover, Gosnell's clinic does not represent the sort of abortion care that is legal or that Planned Parenthood (or any pro-choice activists, for that matter) supports or offers. -Ed.]
You’d think he was addressing Ronald McDonald House, not an organization that provided 333,964 abortions last year, disproportionately on black women. [Or you'd think he was addressing an organization that provides much-needed and overwhelmingly not-abortion-related health-care services to communities, including low-income Black communities, that desperately need such services because of conservative economic and social policies. -Ed.]
President Obama, you see, doesn’t care about Black women or the plight of Black urban America. Star Parker and her “urban renewal” organization, on the other hand, do. Or so they would have you believe. A review of CURE’s advisory board roster, however, tells a different story.
John Ashcroft—yes, that John Ashcroft—is on CURE’s advisory board. John Ashcroft is well-known for being the songbird attorney general during the Bush administration who taught Americans how to properly fear Muslims. Before that, however, Ashcroft served as attorney general for the state of Missouri, where he bravely fought tooth and nail to keep St. Louis and Kansas City schools segregated. So bravely did he fight against school desegregation, that the official supervising the racial integration plan called him “obstructionist.” In addition, Harvard professor Gary Orfield said that Ashcroft “had no positive vision and constantly stirred up racial divisions” over the issue, ultimately calling Ashcroft “an unrelenting opponent of doing anything in St. Louis.” A man who opposes “doing anything” in underserved communities is just the sort of guy we need to help poverty-stricken urban areas, wouldn’t you agree?
Ed Meese, emeritus fellow for the Heritage Foundation (well-known for its work in fighting racial and social injustice) also sits on CURE’s advisory board. Meese, you may recall, was Reagan’s attorney general. Meese famously tried to convince Reagan to block the extension of the Voting Rights Act. And later, Meese actually convinced Reagan to grant tax exempt status to Bob Jones University, a school that proudly practiced racial discrimination and refused to allow interracial dating on campus until 2000. With such pro-Black bona fides, of course Ed Meese is the perfect person to develop social policies that will help urban minorities.
And then there’s Michael Medved, the Grand Wizard of the advisory board. Medved subscribes to the most virulent white supremacist theory about genetics and intelligence. Back in 2007, Medved explained that Black Americans simply didn’t display the sort of risk-taking that European immigrants did when they journeyed to the United States. I reckon Black folks were just too stupid to not get themselves snatched up by white slave traders. He also seems to think that slavery wasn’t that bad because, essentially, a dead slave is a useless slave—a position that ought to endear him in the hearts of the urban Black folks that CURE claims it wants to help.
Ashcroft, Meese, and Medved are but a handful of the conservabros that are overseeing CURE’s putative urban renewal efforts. That far-right conservatives who proudly espouse racist views sit on the advisory board of an organization that lists “jumpstarting a national dialogue on race and poverty” as one of its goals is as funny as it is preposterous. Star Parker doesn’t care about Black women or Black women’s health care. If she did, she would support Black women’s access to a full range of health-care services, including contraception, prenatal care, AIDS prevention, and abortion. She would support more funding for public assistance programs like SNAP. She would advocate more funding for Medicaid and Title IX. You want to renew the urban core, Star? Focus on education, jobs, affordable housing and, yes, healthcare, including reproductive healthcare.
But Star would rather be the new star of the far-right conservative movement than do anything that might actually help her people. And so at tomorrow’s press conference, Parker will lead a group of conservatives and anti-choicers in a group pearl-clutching over the Gosnell trial. They will complain, despite documented evidence to the contrary, that the media has been complicit in a coordinated media blackout about Gosnell, his crimes, and his trial. They will lament the “murder” of Black babies by “evil” Planned Parenthood. They will claim that the solution to Gosnell and the Black abortion rate is no abortion ever. They will do their damnedest to pretend to care about Black women without doing anything that might actually help Black women, like trusting Black women to make their own reproductive health choices and trusting Black women to speak for themselves. But most of all, they will push their anti-choice agendas by repackaging the same white conservative policies in Black urban wrapping paper in the hopes that Black people won’t know the difference.
But we do know the difference. We know that the answer to the Black abortion rate is more choice and more access to quality care. We know that the answer to Gosnell is not fewer abortions, but better abortion care. We know that banning abortion will not end abortion, but rather will drive abortion underground and into back alleys, where clinics like Gosnell’s will pop up like payday loan shops.
And where will the likes of John Ashcroft, Ed Meese, and Michael Medved be when that happens? Probably tut-tutting to one another about Martin Luther King being a Republican, and how much better life was for Black folks before the Emancipation Proclamation.
Image: Star Parker / YouTube
The post Star Parker, CURE Exploit Gosnell Case to Promote Debunked ‘Black Genocide’ Narrative appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Lawyer and activist Barbara Brenner led the organization Breast Cancer Action to national prominence, demanding not just “awareness” of the disease but research into causes and prevention. Although she overcame breast cancer herself, she died last week from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at age 61.
Barbara Brenner put up her final Healthy Barbs blog post earlier this week. I will miss her fierceness, passion and uncompromising intelligence.
I got to know Barbara as the head of Breast Cancer Action; back then, as I recall, the organization’s motto was, “The Bad Girls of Breast Cancer.” I liked that.
It often took me years of conversations to catch up with Barbara’s thinking. She was the one who first talked to me about the over-promise of mammography. She also talked about the lack of centralized data on cancer patients and cancer research. That just sounded wonky to me, but now I finally get how critical that work is.
Barbara may be best known for coining the term “pinkwashing” (again, years before anyone really “got it”). Pinkwashing is when companies claim to care about women and breast cancer by sporting the pink ribbon while at the same time producing products linked to the disease or other threats to public health. There are legions of examples. In my recent Times article I wrote:
Having football teams don rose-colored cleats, for instance, can counteract bad press over how the NFL handles accusations against players of rape or domestic violence. Chevron’s donations to California [Susan G.] Komen affiliates may help deflect what Cal OSHA called its “willful violations” of safety that led to a huge refinery fire last year in a Bay Area neighborhood.
Barbara was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993 at age 41; about three years later, she had a local recurrence. Then, after 15 years of breast cancer activism, she contracted another disease—ALS. Often (and incorrectly as she would tell you) called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” ALS is a fatal degenerative neuromuscular illness. Barbara wrote a post about this outstanding PSA, put together by supporters of football player Steve Gleason to raise needed awareness, and how it differed from the typical pink-ribbon feel-goodism:
Discussing the two illnesses on Healthy Barbs, Barbara wrote:
The issues are both different and remarkably similar.
How I think about this illness and how I react are influenced by my years as a breast cancer activist. How people deal with me now makes me think about how people deal with others who are ill. The purpose of this blog, Healthy Barbs, is to encourage people to learn to think in new ways about illness and health and to prompt them to be critical of the mainstream coverage of health issues.
It’s not meant to be comfortable. It’s meant to make people THINK!
That is Barbara: It’s not about making nice. It’s about understanding, thinking, getting stuff DONE.
The last communication I had from Barbara was on May 7 in the comments to my previous post about Nancy Brinker’s 64 percent pay raise. Barbara wrote: “Actually, Brinker is still the CEO [of Susan G. Komen]. She will have that title until Komen hires her replacement. Who in their right mind would take that job if Brinker is still involved? Got me.”
On May 8, just one day later according to her Caring Bridge site, Barbara decided to stop taking nourishment. She continued to take liquids.
I hope she won’t mind that I’m copying part of her final post here:
I have been blessed to lead a rich life, full of love and culture and travel and work that had meaning for me. I have no regrets except that I got ALS in the first place.
I have met amazing people both in person and on-line. Everyone I have come in contact with has had something unique to offer the world. The world is a better place because these people are or were in it. Some of these people I have mentored (and you know who you are), others have taught me. What I know about all of these people is that I have been blessed to know them, and that they will succeed at what they set their hearts and minds to do.
In the Jewish tradition there is a Priestly Blessing. I copy below it because it is what I wish for all readers of these words:
May the Lord bless you
and keep you;
May the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
May the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.
Barbara, you have made a difference in my life—and in that of so many others—as well as in my work. Your voice and spirit will always be in my heart. I love you. I will miss you.
Legal Wrap is a round-up of key legal and reproductive justice news
Last week, a federal judge blasted the Obama administration’s decision to file a last-minute appeal of a ruling making emergency contraception widely available while also approving Plan B for over-the-counter sales to individuals age 15 and older with ID. RH Reality Check’s Sharona Coutts attended a hearing related to the appeal and reports here how Judge Korman, a Reagan appointee, sharply criticized the administration’s handling of the emergency contraception issue as blatantly political and compared the administration’s efforts to evade the ruling to voter suppression efforts. The hearing was in connection with a request by the Obama administration to hold off enforcing the ruling that gave the administration until May to lift age and point-of-sale restrictions on emergency contraception while an appeals court hears the case. On Friday, Judge Korman denied the administration’s request, a decision that was all but given after his comments at the hearing.
Attorneys for the state of Arkansas argued the state’s 12-week abortion ban is constitutional and therefore a lawsuit challenging the statute should be dismissed, because it was passed to protect women. While the court considered the state’s request, attorneys for an anti-abortion counseling group asked if they could join the lawsuit and help defend against it. The main reason the group offered for why it should be allowed to defend the law: Denying patients access to abortion care is good for their business. Thankfully the court was not persuaded that was a good enough reason and denied the request.
An anti-abortion protester has sued the town of Jackson, Wyoming, arguing his 2011 arrest in connection with an Operation Save America protest violated his civil rights. Mark Holick, a Kansas pastor, was arrested while preaching in the Jackson town square shortly after the town secured a state court order barring any anti-abortion protesters from appearing on the town square. Operation Save America had descended on Jackson after a doctor in the town acknowledged performing abortions, and town officials sought the court order in response. But last year a Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that the order barring the protesters violated the rights of the protesters who were not alerted in advance that the town had requested. As a result of that Wyoming Supreme Court ruling Holick is now suing the town and its police officers, arguing that his arrest was unlawful and therefore he’s entitled to money damages. Officials for the town have not yet responded to the lawsuit.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in Eden Foods Inc. v. Sebelius, one of the now 30 cases filed by secular, for-profit companies trying to evade health-care reform and radically re-define religious freedom. The federal appeals court also granted a request by the Obama administration to dismiss its appeal of a preliminary injunction granted to bible publisher Tyndale House, meaning the business does not have to provide insurance coverage for contraception to its employees. All in all there are now 62 cases challenging the birth control benefit in federal court, and the administration is in the last stages of finalizing a rule that would lay out the scope of exempting from the coverage requirement based on religious objections.
In case it wasn’t clear before, it should be now: One strategy employed by the anti-abortion movement is to litigate abortion rights and access out of existence. It’s not just litigation related to abortion restrictions or contraception coverage either. There’s a national campaign to drown providers in civil lawsuits for allegations they failed to report statutory rape cases.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke at the University of Chicago Law School over the weekend and said that while she wholeheartedly supports a woman’s right to choose abortion, the landmark Roe v. Wade decision was too sweeping and a disappointment because it was not argued in the crucial terms of advancing women’s rights but rather on the right to privacy. It’s a sobering assessment and one that couldn’t be more relevant.
Conservatives are already making the case that the Gosnell trial should spark federal action on abortion providers. Here, two prominent legal scholars take that call one step further and begin to lay out their claim that the Constitution demands it. The basis of this claim is, of course, fetal “personhood” and the argument that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment demands Congress act to protect the civil rights of the “unborn children” at every stage of pregnancy.
Finally, over two years ago the National Women’s Law Center filed complaints against many of the nation’s largest public school districts, arguing they were failing to meet their obligations under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that protects the right to equal opportunity in eduction regardless of gender. The school districts targeted each had double-digit disparities between the number of girl students attending high school and the number of girl students participating in athletics. Thanks to those complaints, Nevada’s largest public school district is now taking steps to make athletic opportunities available to all its students.
Image: Gage / Wikimedia Commons
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Just hours after the jury in the Kermit Gosnell case signaled it was deadlocked on two counts, it returned with a verdict, finding Gosnell guilty on three of four counts of first-degree murder. He was also found guilty on involuntary manslaughter charges involving the death of a female patient.
The verdict closes the first phase of a two-month trial that anti-choice activists quickly turned political, first attacking the media, then trying to make Gosnell an indictment on all abortion providers.
“Justice was served to Kermit Gosnell today and he will pay the price for the atrocities he committed,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a statement. “We hope that the lessons of the trial do not fade with the verdict. Anti-choice politicians, and their unrelenting efforts to deny women access to safe and legal abortion care, will only drive more women to back-alley butchers like Kermit Gosnell.”
The Gosnell case is an important reminder of the fact-finding function of our courts. Through the grand-jury report and trial testimony, the picture that emerged was of a man willing to prey on desperate patients and a system willing to at best drag its feet and at worst turn a blind eye because the victims were often poor women of color. This is a point made by Hogue:
From the lack of funding available for low-income women to access abortion services, to the sharp decline of reputable providers in Pennsylvania, to the gross negligence of authorities to enforce the law after complaints were filed against Gosnell, each aspect of this case must be a teachable moment for lawmakers: until we reject the politicization of women’s medical care and leave these decisions where they belong—between a woman and her family and her doctor—women will never be safe. The horrifying story of Kermit Gosnell is a peek into the world before Roe v. Wade made legal a woman’s right to make her own choices.
With the conviction on multiple first-degree murder charges, Gosnell could face the death penalty. The jury will begin to hear testimony on Tuesday to determine whether or not Gonsell will go to death row.
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Last week U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman refused to delay the ruling following a hearing on the matter, blasting the administration for playing politics with emergency contraception access and comparing those efforts to voter suppression tactics. Friday’s order gave the administration until Monday to appeal. The court of appeals will now consider both whether implementation of the rule making emergency contraception should be delayed as well as whether the original ruling that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and HHS acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it overrode the Food and Drug Administration recommendations to make emergency contraception available over-the-counter and without a prescription.
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Some members of the Pennsylvania legislature have been putting up a fight over whether coverage for abortion should be included in the state’s health-care exchange, even if the purchaser pays for additional coverage out-of-pocket. Claiming the need to “protect” other taxpayers from subsidizing abortion services, some lawmakers are calling the exchange itself a “taxpayer-funded” resource, because taxpayer resources are being used to help implement it.
One state lawmaker is arguing that patients shouldn’t be able to use their own personal funds to buy coverage separate from state-paid funds, because that would be too much oversight for a state agency to handle. According to the Associated Press, state Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair) said during debate that if “the government could not be trusted to properly regulate abortion clinics”—meaning Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s clinic—”it cannot be trusted to ensure that only private dollars are used to purchase abortion coverage through the exchanges.”
Eichelberger is a strong abortion opponent who demanded hearings over Gosnell’s illegal practice when his actions were first discovered in 2011 and called for a probe into whether any “public money” went to the clinic. Now, he’s asking for supporters to “pray” for the new, stricter funding law to pass, citing Gosnell.
Women went to Gosnell’s clinic because, among other reasons, they could not afford to go anywhere else. Between the regulations that are shutting down legal clinics and the additional roadblocks to ensure abortion procedures are as expensive as possible, lawmakers continue to use Gosnell’s name as a means of cutting off access to safe abortion care. As reproductive health advocates have argued, this may end up creating more Gosnells, rather than eliminating them.
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