Each year at Thanksgiving, I count my blessings. And I have many: good health, two wonderful, healthy children, a wealth of close and caring friends, a good job, phenomenal colleagues, and many opportunities to continue learning. I cherish these things because I know how easily any one or all of them might be lost. And I know in facing any number of struggles, there are people who stand beside me to whom I can turn.
There are also many, many people and organizations to whom I am deeply grateful and with which I feel blessed to be affiliated. They provide both inspiration and support in too many ways to count, through their work, dedication, courage, and commitment to justice for all people. I will not even attempt individual names. You know who you are.
Today, I want to give thanks to all of you:
To the RHRC staff, many of whom have carried us through a relentless and challenging period of growth over more than two years, and whose work has not only made us who we are today but carried us to the beginning of a new journey of growth and development.
To our board of directors, which has seen us through many phases of rapid growth, supported a bold vision for our future, and given their time and energy to helping make us the best we can be.
To our funders, who believe in us deeply and have invested the non-profit venture capital necessary to build a solid foundation and begin the journey to a more powerful future.
To the many, many colleagues in the reproductive and sexual justice movement and the broader movements for justice with whom we work daily. These are the people who understand that control over one’s own body is a fundamental human right, and also an essential condition for every other basic freedom. They understand that the power of such freedom is threatening to many, creating a highly contested battleground in the United States and throughout the world. I am thankful for those who work every day to protect the rights of pregnant women, and the rights of women who choose not to be pregnant, to those who work to expose the epidemic of rape, assault, and violence of all kinds. I am thankful to all those who work to ensure that we build a world where having a child also means being able to raise that child with the resources needed for his or her development and to live freely from violence, discrimination, and hatred.
To the many individuals and groups in justice movements who continue to fight every single day to ensure that every person in the world has access to the most fundamental building blocks of an equitable world: high-quality health care from birth to death; high-quality education from preschool through graduate school; housing, food, and freedom from violence; freedom from stigma and discrimination; just laws and policies; access to fair courts; and so many other things. These are the people who fight to ensure that the basic human rights of undocumented persons in the United States are recognized no less than the basic human rights of Wall Street investors. These are the people who fight the unending attacks on reproductive and sexual health care, on LGBT persons, on fair wages, on teachers and public sector workers, on the environment, and in other areas too numerous to name. These people fight every day, and no matter the defeat or conditions on Monday, get up on Tuesday and say, “What do we need to do better?”
To the many colleagues and organizations in movements working to protect and promote the human rights of people of color, whose very humanity remains under attack in so many corners of this country. The people who know that the election of a Black president did not mean the end of racism, discrimination, and hate—that it instead blew the lid off the deeply embedded racism that boils just below the surface in the United States, whose worst perpetrators want to pretend it does not exist.
To the many sisters in the women of color reproductive justice movement particularly, who work unceasingly, sometimes themselves living in poverty while working for justice. I am indebted to you, but also appalled at the conditions you’re faced with and the ways in which traditional sources of funding ignore your efforts. I thank you for your relentless honesty and commitment, and am committed to you in return.
To the many who fight for the rights of all workers, to earn not just “minimum wages”—a term that says everything you need to know about how we value such work—and not just “living wages,” but wages that reflect a societal commitment to enabling people to build a life, aspire and achieve their dreams, and raise children, and ensure the most fundamental conditions of humanity.
To the many who fight for government for all, not for the few. To those who organize, strategize, and mobilize, I thank you.
To those who fight each day, against what seem to be insurmountable odds, to save humanity from itself by ensuring we save our planet. You recognize and understand that what is at stake is not just our future, but the future of all the children around the world who have little say in the devastation and destruction of our world, but who will have to live with the consequences. I thank you every day for the work you are doing to avoid true catastrophe.
To the providers of safe abortion care, family planning, and other reproductive health services whose services are profoundly critical, and whose livelihoods and lives are under constant, and sometimes deadly, attack. Your bravery and commitment to the fundamental human right to health care and bodily integrity leave me in awe.
And to our readers, whose dedication to our issues has enabled us to grow in audience, readership, and visibility.
I want to thank all of you for the blessings of being affiliated with you and inspired by you each and every day. Many if not most of you are a part of several of the groups named here, because the work each of us does and the vision we share is integrated and integral to a world in which justice is the basic platform on which we can all build a future.
Saying thank you does not feel like much, but it is one way to recognize and appreciate how much you all mean to me every single day.
Content note: This article contains a description of alleged sexual assaults.
Last week, Rolling Stone published an in-depth article about rape culture at the University of Virginia, instantly grabbing the attention of a nation already struggling to comprehend the extent of our campus sexual assault crisis. It also, apparently, grabbed the attention of the school’s administration. After at least a year of reported inaction, officials suddenly jumped to announce that they had suspended all Greek life activities until January, called an emergency meeting of the University’s Board of Visitors, and asked the local police to help investigate the allegations in the Rolling Stone piece.
These actions are the very definition of “too little, too late”: the suspension comes just in time for Thanksgiving and then winter breaks, meaning that, unless extended, it will actually affect only about two weeks of the academic year. And the timing of the reaction smacks of an administration that is far more worried about its brand and reputation than its students.
Stories that challenge readers to think about rape on campus seem to come up every day. Recently, we’ve learned about a young woman at Columbia University who dragged her mattress around campus to protest the administration’s lack of response to her allegations of rape; the college president who suggested women frequently make up rape allegations after a regretted sexual experience; a lawsuit against a Georgia Tech fraternity that had previously released instructions for “luring your rape-bait”; the president of Florida’s Eckerd College sent an email to students suggesting that they could prevent sexual assault if they drank less and “practiced virtue in the area of sexuality”; and a Texas fraternity that lost its charter for hanging a banner reading “no means yes and yes means anal.” These stories all come at a time when the White House has made addressing sexual assault on campus a priority and the U.S. Education Department is investigating 86 schools for their handling or mishandling of sexual assault cases.
Yet even with this kind of saturation, the University of Virginia (UVA) story stood out because of the horrific details of gang rape it included, the depth and breadth of the reporting behind it, and the suggestion by the Rolling Stone piece’s author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, that both students and administrators care more about the reputation of the institution founded by Thomas Jefferson than the health, safety, and well-being of its student body.
The woman at the center of the Rolling Stone article is being called Jackie. Now a junior, Jackie’s story is horrifying—yet not unfamiliar, given the prevalence of rapes on campuses in the United States. According to Jackie, when she was a month into her first year at UVA, she was invited to a fraternity party by an older student with whom she worked as a lifeguard. She saw it as a date, but when he invited her upstairs ostensibly to be alone, Jackie says she found herself locked in a dark room with an unknown number of men. Someone pushed her to the ground; someone else held her down and covered her mouth. For the next three hours, Jackie says she was raped by seven men while two others stood guard and barked orders. When she recognized one of her attackers from an anthropology class, he lost his nerve and his erection; after the other men in the room goaded him and called him a “pussy,” she says he raped her with a beer bottle instead.
University officials did not hear of the attack right away. As Jackie describes it to Rolling Stone, right after the incident, which happened in 2012, some of her new friends discouraged her from going to campus authorities or the Charlottesville police department. They worried about Jackie’s reputation as “the girl who cried rape” and their own popularity as a result. Instead, Jackie drew inward, stopped going to classes, and quit her job. Eventually, however, she reached out for help from her mother and a psychiatrist.
The following semester, Jackie’s academic dean referred her and her mother to Dean Nicole Eramo, the head of UVA’s Sexual Misconduct Board. Eramo explained Jackie’s options: She could go to the police, she could file a formal misconduct complaint which would be adjudicated by a jury of students and faculty and could end in punishment for the accused, or she could file an informal complaint which could end in an apology and perhaps the suggestion that the accused seek counseling. Jackie decided she was not ready to take any of those steps. She did, however, allow Eramo to introduce her to other survivors; in the semesters since, she has become very involved as an advocate for others who have been assaulted.
According to Rolling Stone, this meeting between Eramo and Jackie took place toward the end of her second semester on campus, which would have been the spring of 2013. This means that administrators have known about the alleged gang rape for a year and a half. Obviously, they could not press criminal charges without Jackie’s involvement. It seems as though they were also not in a position to file misconduct complaints—formal or informal. But as Erdely explains in the article, the information Jackie gave Eramo was not confidential. So if she or other officials had wanted to react to it in some way, they could have.
They could have, oh, I don’t know, suspended Greek activities. They could have called an emergency meeting of the Board of Visitors to discuss the problem of sexual assault on campus. Or, perhaps, they could have asked the police to help investigate the alleged incident. Sound familiar? It should—they did all of the above, but only after Rolling Stone‘s reporters blew the case open.
But before this week, they did nothing. They only told Jackie when she met with Eramo again in 2014 to share stories from other survivors that it was likely that all the men involved had graduated.
And this is what makes me the angriest. The alleged details of the case did not change just because they were put in print and circulated widely around the Internet. The rape culture on campus did not originate when people outside of Charlottesville began talking about it. The role of Greek life at UVA in facilitating—and even encouraging—sexual assault is the same as it has been for decades, only now it’s being put under a national microscope.
The administration reportedly knew about the gang rape for over a year and did nothing until we were all watching. Until articles started appearing daily in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the New York Times questioning how UVA would recover its reputation. Until CNN ran stories that made the stately campus seem anything but peaceful. Until UVA’s name was being actively dragged through the beer-soaked mud.
If officials truly cared about their students, it wouldn’t take pressure from the entire country to get them to protect them. It wouldn’t even take the urging from the students themselves. It would just be the way things were done.
If Dean Eramo and her colleagues had looked at Jackie’s case and made a professional judgment call that it did not warrant official attention for whatever reason—there was not enough evidence, there were too many holes in her story, the accused could not be adequately identified—then that decision should continue to hold today, even with the bad publicity. The official response should have been to explain exactly why they thought, and continue to think, that no further action in this case was warranted. Though UVA President Teresa Sullivan released a statement claiming that the article included details not previously disclosed to university officials, it’s clear from Erdely’s piece that administrators have known quite a bit of information about Jackie’s case for quite some time.
It isn’t that the Rolling Stone article is a font of new evidence, it’s a giant glaring spotlight. And the fact that the administration reacted only once that spotlight was turned on suggests that Erdely is right: “At UVA, rapes are kept quiet, both by students—who brush off sexual assaults as regrettable but inevitable casualties of their cherished party culture—and by an administration that critics say is less concerned with protecting students than it is with protecting its own reputation from scandal.”
Of course, having done nothing until the world was watching may have been exactly what brought on the biggest scandal of all.
The post UVA Officials Reacted to Rape Culture Only Once the World Started Watching appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Democrats need to stop apologizing for their support of a strong, active government if they want to win elections, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said Tuesday in a speech at the National Press Club.
“In order to win in 2016, Democrats must embrace government, not run away from it,” Schumer said.
The Senate’s third-ranking Democrat said the middle class “knows in its gut” that only a “strong and active government” can stop the economic bleeding that has caused median incomes to drop $3,600 since President Bush took office in 2001.
This is the first time in American history that middle-class incomes have been in decline for more than a decade, Schumer said, and it’s not for a lack of production.
Overall productivity has shot up while wages have gone down, meaning that those gains have gone to capital, not labor. And another decade of this would mean a “sour and angry” populace with different groups ready to “turn on each other in a way we haven’t seen in almost a century.”
It was a methodical, big-picture speech that laid out the historical and economic case for why only strong government, and the Democrats who are willing to advocate for it, can keep the country out of crisis.
It was also a speech about political calculation—one that may or may not include poor and disadvantaged populations in its attempt to appeal to white middle-class voters.
To explain why the Democrats lost in 2014, Schumer went back to 1932.
He said the “big tectonic plates” of pro-government and anti-government sentiment have shifted back and forth slowly, but dramatically, over the decades. Those who advocated for government ruled between 1932 and 1980, when President Roosevelt unleashed massive government spending to pull the country out of the Great Depression, and Republican presidents like Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon built the highway system and founded the EPA.
Anti-government forces took over from 1981 to 2008 with the ascendance of Ronald Reagan and his “government is the problem” rhetoric. Schumer said Democrats were too successful at creating broad-based prosperity and Americans didn’t think they needed government anymore.
The fear and uncertainty of the 2008 recession swung the pendulum back in government’s favor, Schumer said. But the Democrats in charge of government failed to convince Americans that government was actually working for them.
First, the Democratic Congressional majority passed a stimulus that saved the United States from another Great Depression, but wasn’t big enough to really fix things.
Then Democrats “blew the opportunity the American people gave them” by focusing on health-care reform—which he argued not enough voters cared about, since 85 percent of Americans already had health care through the government or an employer—instead of taking broader action to end the recession and help the middle class as a whole.
Finally, this underlying economic insecurity made it easier to attack government over more superficial, but easily sensationalized issues like Ebola or the disastrous online exchange rollout.
Americans still know that government is the best shield they have against the wage-depressing forces of globalization and increasing technological efficiency, Schumer said. They know that those private-sector forces naturally benefit only those at the top unless government intervenes, and that the Republican solution of giving those forces even more unrestricted power makes no sense.
Democrats therefore have a “natural advantage” when middle-class incomes are declining—but now the party needs to make a stronger and more coherent case for why that is.
That will mean a two-step strategy that he claims will work for both progressive Democrats and those in red states, if done well.
First, a more populist message, “even for those of us who don’t consider ourselves populists,” to counter people’s suspicions about wealthy special interests capturing government; then, “proposing and passing legislation that is effective and acutely focused on reversing the middle class decline.”
Schumer wouldn’t go into policy details during his speech, but he said anything Democrats propose has to do five things: directly make middle-class lifestyles more affordable, be simple and easily explained, be “achievable,” affect a broad swath of Americans, and fit together into a coherent theme.
Schumer’s comments on health care revealed a sort of pragmatic class bias, and perhaps the limits of his own populism.
He said that while the Affordable Care Act’s reforms were necessary and he was proud to vote for the bill, it affected “a very small slice of the country,” and an even smaller slice of the electorate—5 percent, he estimated, based on assumptions about how many uninsured people are registered to vote and how many of those registered voted.
Health care “wasn’t the change we were hired to make,” he said. “Americans were crying out for an end to the recession, for better wages and more jobs; not for changes in their health care.”
For the bottom fifth of earners, the ACA was also a significant income boost. And of course those “changes in health care” also included revolutionary gains in women’s health coverage, and the difference between life and death for people with pre-existing conditions at every income level.
Schumer didn’t discuss poverty in his sweeping analysis of the broken modern economy; everything centered around the middle class. This may be a sound strategy, given that most Americans think of themselves as middle class, poor people vote less often due to higher barriers, and a stronger middle class strengthens the economy as a whole.
Schumer’s speech also signals a renewed focus on winning the affections of the white, likely male, working-class voters Democrats lost so badly in 2014, and possibly less focus on the concerns of the “rising American electorate” of women and people of color that many Democratic strategists see as the key to the party’s future.
Democrats have big advantages in almost every demographic except for white men, 62 percent of whom voted for Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election. And an August poll shows that the Democratic Party has a lot of work to do in gaining the affections of white men, as that group prefers a Republican-led Congress by a 17-point margin.
Image: ABC News/Youtube
The post Schumer: Democrats Must ‘Embrace Government’ to Win in 2016 appeared first on RH Reality Check.
11.25.14 - A recent Wall Street Journal article takes a look at some of the big-picture issues around the recent tragedy in Bilaspur, India, where 13 women died and dozens of others seriously fell ill while undergoing coerced sterilization at one of the country’s government-sponsored sterilization “camps.”
Although investigators have now zeroed in on tainted antibiotics as a possible cause for the mass sickening, the horrendous event brings to light questions about why female sterilization remains a cornerstone of Indian family planning in the first place.
“We only know the world of sterilization,” said the mother of 26-year-old Janaki Suryavanshi, one of the women who died following the procedure. According to a recent government survey, 34% of households nationwide said female sterilization was their current method of family planning.
Suryavanshi, who was a mother of three, had been told that surgical sterilization was her only option when she asked health workers in her community about birth control. According to the Wall Street Journal, many of the women sterilized in Bilaspur said they had never used a condom, birth-control pills, or an IUD.
In an effort to address overpopulation, India’s government offers money to women and health workers who take part in the surgeries. The women who were sterilized at the camp in Bilaspur earlier this month were each paid the equivalent of approximately $22 to have the procedure.
However, a number of women in the region said that the primary reason they agreed to be sterilized was the lack of birth control alternatives.
Around 4.5 million women were sterilized in India last year.
In the aftermath of Bilaspur, activists hoped that the Indian government would be prompted to more closely examine the safety and quality of health care, the nation’s health priorities, and the country’s overall accountability towards people's lives and human rights.
An investigation of the camp after the incident found that the facility was shockingly out of date, with broken windows, cobweb-laden equipment, and floors covered in animal feces.
Unfortunately, on November 18, the Indian daily newspaper Dainik Bhaskar reported another mass sterilization at a camp in a neighboring state.
One hundred thirty-two women were hastily operated on over a period of just five hours in the middle of the night, despite express government guidelines that instruct surgical teams to perform no more than 50 procedures a day. It was also reported that the camp did not have basic essentials such as the stretchers to carry women out of the operation room.
While no deaths or mishaps have been reported following the most recent incident, the continued precarious conditions to which woman are routinely exposed to as a result of the lack of birth control choices points to significant deficits in the Indian government’s accountability towards women's lives and reproductive health rights.Center for Reproductive Rights Brings Forced Sterilization Case of HIV Positive Woman to Human Rights Commission Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity India Pushed to Prioritize Women’s Health
A new poll finds that an overwhelming majority of Latino voters support the president’s decision to take action, even though many immigration advocates wanted President Obama’s immigration executive order to go further.
The poll, conducted by Latino Decisions and commissioned by the Latino social justice group Presente, found that 89 percent of registered Latino voters support the president’s executive action to shield about five million unauthorized immigrants from deportation and allow them to get work permits.
That’s the highest level of support Latino Decisions has ever recorded for any public policy, Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration group America’s Voice, told reporters on Monday.
The action has support from 76 percent of Latino Republicans. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said immigration was one of the most important factors in deciding who to vote for.
“So as the Republicans gear up to try to challenge and kill this thing, they might want to take note of that,” Sharry said.
The surveyed voters opposed Republican efforts to block the legislation—80 percent said they were against a bill that de-funds the action and keeps the government from issuing work permits.
Pro-immigration lawmakers told reporters during a Monday press call that while they wish the action had gone further, it’s still a victory, and they don’t blame the president for being as cautious as he was.
“He erred on the side of making sure that if there were five million he offered something to, that that would be sustained in any courtroom,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL).
The president’s Office of Legal Counsel advised against that option, though, and Gutierrez said the conversation would now be about nothing else if Obama had ignored their advice.
“We’re certainly disappointed that the parents of DREAMers couldn’t make it,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). But that’s why Congress needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform, he said, adding that the president’s order is still “a game-changer for millions.”
Many also pushed to give newly-protected immigrants access to affordable health care, but that was regarded as even more of a political non-starter than protecting the parents of DACA recipients.
DACA recipients, and those newly protected by the president’s action, are specifically locked out of affordable federal health-care programs like the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid.
This is the case even though they pay taxes that support those programs, and even though immigrants with other kinds of deferred deportation status can access them.
“It doesn’t make much sense from a health-care perspective or from a fiscal perspective” to bar these people from accessing affordable health care, “but it was never really something that the Congress or the president would have entertained,” Douglas Rivlin, director of communications for Gutierrez, told RH Reality Check.
Despite Republican talking points about tyranny and monarchy, the action is clearly legal, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) told reporters.
“There are multiple examples going back to 1952 where presidents have used this very same authority granted to them to bring relief to individuals,” Lofgren said.
The closest parallels to what Obama’s executive order are the actions Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush took, Lofgren said. Congress had deliberately excluded family members from its legislative amnesty in 1986, but less than a year after that, Reagan “just decided he didn’t agree with what Congress did.”
Combined, Reagan and Bush’s executive authority legalized about 42 percent of the country’s undocumented population at the time. Obama’s action would protect, but not fully legalize, about 45 percent of today’s undocumented population.
But that protection will only matter if unauthorized immigrants actually sign up for the new program, Gutierrez said.
“The fear campaign is just starting, and they’re trying to keep our immigrants from signing up,” Gutierrez said. “There hasn’t been one person saved from deportation. … The only way we do that is by signing people up.”
The post GOP Take Note: Latinos Support Obama’s Immigration Action, Poll Finds appeared first on RH Reality Check.
The reality of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson’s non-indictment is settling in, and the enormous task of undoing the structural racism and oppression that brought us to this point sits especially heavy on the shoulders of many in the aftermath. But if there’s one glimmer of hope to come from witnessing white power structures in Missouri circle their wagons to protect one of their own, it is the transformative power of digital media. In fact, the power of digital media and social media to speak truth to power and create systems to hold Wilson and his protectors accountable is so great that St. Louis County and Wilson-apologist Robert McCulloch blamed social media for making an indictment of Wilson impossible because it basically created too much evidence to sift through. A cynic might think that McCulloch’s statements—made Monday evening, well after the grand jury decision had been reached but not yet announced—were simply looking for cover from criticism that, as far as any justice for Mike Brown and his family, the fix was in.
A cynic would be right.
But thanks to the power of digital journalism and social media today, we’re having a different conversation—a tough one, a necessary one—about the value of Black lives and what justice looks like now. Below is a roundup of some of the best and most thought-provoking reading on the aftermath of the Ferguson grand jury travesty.
Jamelle Bouie at Slate reminds us that it’s not just the courts that can create justice. “It would have been powerful to see charges filed against Darren Wilson,” writes Bouie. “At the same time, actual justice for Michael Brown—a world in which young men like Michael Brown can’t be gunned down without consequences—won’t come from the criminal justice system. Our courts and juries aren’t impartial arbiters—they exist inside society, not outside of it—and they can only provide as much justice as society is willing to give.”
Brittney Cooper goes right for the gut punch of truth, here: “If I have to begin by convincing you that Black Lives Matter, we have all already lost, haven’t we?”
The Ferguson grand jury’s openness was a farce, no matter if they posted the evidence online after their deliberation.
Even Ezra Klein thinks Darren Wilson is full of it.
Meanwhile, the National Bar Association calls on the Department of Justice to keep up their investigation and pursue federal charges against Wilson.
Because, as the Ferguson protesters said, “we still don’t have justice.”
As we suspected, grand juries almost always indict, unless, apparently, the target of the grand jury investigation is a cop.
White people, if you’re still wondering, here are 12 things you can do right now in the face of the outrage that is Ferguson.
Syreeta McFadden, at The Guardian, has this must-read.
ProPublica’s analysis of killings by police show Black men at a distinctly higher risk of extrajudicial murder.
One of CNN’s legal analysts described Wilson’s testimony as “fanciful and not credible.”
That’s more generous than the “pack of damn lies” that I can muster.
There are still a couple of ways Wilson could be held accountable, but it’s an uphill climb.
Jay Smooth has some tips for having the “that sounds racist” conversation, which is especially helpful before Thanksgiving with relatives.
Let’s take a moment to revisit this powerful piece by Katherine Cross on why Ferguson is a reproductive justice issue.
If you suspected an inherent conflict of interest in prosecutors who rely on cops to be trusted with aggressively prosecuting one, you’re right.
Katie McDonough at Salon has this great piece on how Darren Wilson and “being afraid for your life” is the ultimate expression of white privilege.
Finally, let’s give CNN legal analyst Lisa Bloom the last word because hers is one of the best and most thorough takedowns of the grand jury testimony and McCulloch’s performance (or lack thereof) as a prosecutor.
The post Legal Wrap: With No Indictment for Darren Wilson, What Comes Next? appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Low-income Maryland trans* residents may for the first time get health insurance coverage for transition-related services, after the state moved forward with new regulations expanding health-care services covered by Medicaid.
The Medicaid expansion would kick off in April, according to the Baltimore Sun.
The action comes on the heels of a similar decision the state made this year to provide coverage for transition-related health-care services of state employees. As a result of a lawsuit filed on behalf of a transgender University of Maryland employee, the state agreed to add language to its health insurance plans that expands coverage of services for transgender people, including hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery.
Karen Black, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, told the Sun that the “same terms” of coverage would be applied to Medicaid patients, assuming that the federal government approves the changes.
The federal government seems likely to approve the expansion. In June, transgender exclusions were removed from federal employees’ health plans. And a month earlier, the exclusions were removed from Medicare coverage.
Trans* people often face significant barriers to accessing health care, both transition-related and not. From explicit exclusion of care in health plans, to the denial of coverage for transgender people altogether, to provider transphobia and a lack of understanding of gender outside of a binary, the medical system in the United States often falls far short of providing quality care for trans* patients.
Only a few states have made similar changes, including California, Massachusetts, and Oregon. And in June, a lawsuit was filed against New York that seeks to expand Medicaid coverage for transition-related care.
The post Maryland Moves to Expand Health Coverage to Low-Income Trans* Residents appeared first on RH Reality Check.
11.25.14 - Following the raid of a health clinic in Penang, Malaysia, a young woman has been wrongfully arrested and sentenced to 12 months in prison for obtaining a legal abortion.
Twenty-four-year-old Nirmala and her husband came to Malaysia from their home country of Nepal as legal migrant workers. Nirmala is an operator at the Sony factory. Her husband works as a security guard.
Last month, shortly after discovering she was pregnant and fearing that she would lose her job as a result, Nirmala sought an abortion at a local clinic. While she was resting in recovery following the procedure, officials from the Malaysian ministry of health entered the clinic, arresting both Nirmala and the doctor.
Since 1989, abortion in Malaysia has been legal in circumstances when a qualified doctor considers the pregnancy to pose a risk to the mental or physical health of the woman.
The doctor reports that he considered the risks of Nirmala losing her job, having to pay compensation to her employer, and being sent back home if found pregnant—and decided she was legally justified to have a termination. Nirmala was only six weeks into the pregnancy at the time of the procedure.
Following her arrest on October 9, Nirmala was swiftly charged and convicted in the absence of legal representation, and has since been imprisoned. After repeated attempts to determine her whereabouts, human rights advocates located Nirmala in prison, reporting that she is in deep distress over her situation.
According to an abortion rights activist from the Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia who is working with the Center for Reproductive Rights to find answers, Nirmala was convicted under a law that states: “It is a criminal offense to prevent a child being born alive.”
A Malaysian expert on comparative abortion laws says that this law only applies later in pregnancy. Nirmala’s case clearly does not fit this category. Her arrest and conviction indicate a sudden reinterpretation of Malaysia’s penal code. Authorities have not enforced the law this way in 25 years.
When attempting to determine the reason for Nirmala’s conviction and why there was no counsel at her court hearing, the abortion rights activist was stonewalled by a health ministry official claiming to know nothing about the raid or Nirmala’s case.
As a migrant worker, Nirmala does not have access to many legal protections or rights. Migrant workers are frequently at risk of abuse in Malaysia.
“The arrest and conviction of Nirmala reeks of discrimination and impunity. We are deeply concerned about Nirmala’s safety and health,” says Melissa Upreti, the Center’s regional director for Asia. “When abortion is criminalized, it is women who suffer the most.”
The government of Malaysia has a binding obligation under international law to ensure that no woman is discriminated against, denied due process, and subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment for having an abortion.Women of the World: Laws and Policies Affecting their Reproductive Lives East and Southeast Asia
When referring to physiologic birth, media outlets and journalists often use the words “natural” or “naturally.” What they mean, however, is this: A baby came out of a vagina.
In May, Anemona Hartocollis used “natural” to mean “vaginal” in the very first sentence of a New York Times article. A few months later, Darlene Cunha did the same thing several times in her op-ed for the Washington Post. Here’s another example over at Yahoo! News. And yet another, from South Africa’s Times Live. There are exceptions, of course, but all too often, “natural” is synonymous with “vaginal,” creating a convoluted, confusing, and highly value-laden judgment of women’s experiences and women’s bodies, which can lead to compromised emotional and physical health. And in a country where one in three women will give birth via surgery, the words we use to talk about how babies are born matter.
First of all, the avoidance of proper terms for cisgender female anatomy in relation to childbirth is indicative of a serious, profoundly scary misogyny embedded in our cultural vocabulary. Acting as if the word “vaginal” is too dirty, too shameful, or too embarrassing to say in mixed company (or in newsprint) reflects a real fear of female bodies and their capabilities. In turn, this fear creates a psychological and sociocultural distance from our female bodies, both in the context of childbirth and the rest of our lives.
Proper terminology aside, the common conflation of “natural” with vaginal is problematic in other ways too. Sure, a birth that happens with medical interventions, including surgery, isn’t how “nature” intended babies to be born. But in the context of our contemporary language, “natural” no longer means “as occurring in nature.” There is no universal connotation of the word “natural,” other than that it’s supposed to be wholesome and good. It’s like labeling a food as “natural” as opposed to, say, organic: Organic means food that is grown without pesticides, while “natural” means whatever the hell the manufacturer wants it to mean. And in the same vein, conflating “natural” birth with vaginal birth implies that other ways of being born are “unnatural”—in other words, inferior.
In every birth, a baby was grown inside of a body and it came out of that body. That is beautiful, however it happens. Using “natural birth” as a synonym for vaginal birth, the way media outlets and everyday people frequently do, can traumatize many women whose births do not happen vaginally. Giving birth is an extremely personal experience; some people who need or request medical intervention during the process might not mind at all if they end up with a cesarean birth, while others may feel as if they missed out on the “rite of passage” of vaginal birth, a biological process that they very much wanted to experience. When these women share their birth stories with friends and family later, they can again have feelings of shame or guilt at having “failed” at something female bodies are “supposed” to be able to do.
I am a certified birth doula. I am a strong supporter of physiologic (defined by midwives as “powered by the innate human capacity of the woman and fetus”), unmedicated, vaginal birth. But I am also a strong supporter of birthing where, how, and with whom you feel comfortable, whether that is “natural” or not.
To complicate things even further, in the birth professional community that I am a part of, “natural birth” often specifically means vaginal birth that happens without the use of pain medication or medical intervention. This adds yet another layer to the convoluted terminology that can lead to families feeling confused and hurt after the births of their children. Privileging drug-free birth in this way—again, by referring to it as “natural” and therefore “better”—can leave individuals feeling as if they weren’t strong enough or brave enough if they do request medication.
As a whole, splitting birth into “natural” and “unnatural” contributes to the dangerous, ever-present dichotomy between medicalized and non-medicalized birth. That dichotomy contributes to a mainstream stereotype of birth professionals and activists as believing that doctors are evil and that epidurals are poison. This false binary vastly oversimplifies the complex web of caregiving and decision-making that leads to healthy mothers and healthy babies, both individually and on a systemic level. I think you’ll find that doctors and doulas, nurses and midwives, birth centers, hospitals, and parents are united in their desire for birthing people to have healthy, happy, and fulfilling experiences, whatever that may look like for them. The idea that you must align with one side—one birth ideology—reduces the very real power that pregnant people have to make dynamic, evolving choices and decisions about their own care and that of their baby.
There should be room in our culture for birthing choices and experiences that incorporate both the primal instincts that have guided birth since humankind began and the amazing medical care we are lucky to be able to use at the beginning of the 21st century. I believe that there are many, many problems with the maternity care system and the way we look at birth today in the United States, including the astronomical rise in cesarean rates and continued violations of the right to informed consent—but I also believe that the multiplicity of options and feelings involved in pregnancy and childbirth should be treated with respect. Respect begins with language. The language we use now is convoluted and confusing, infused with implicit judgments that can both alienate and upset birthing people.
I advocate for the use of the term “unmedicated birth” for birth that happens without pain medication, because unmedicated is a more neutral word that’s based in fact rather than in significance. I advocate for the use of “surgical birth” or “cesarean birth” rather than “c-section”: Remember, it’s a birth, not just a procedure! I think that when we are talking about a baby coming out of a cisgendered women’s vagina, whether interventions are involved or not, we should be saying “vaginal birth.” I also think if someone who is transgender or gender variant is giving birth, we should be using the terminology that person prefers, whether it is vaginal or some other term that resonates with the individual. And I think the word natural, which is an increasingly loaded term in our culture, generally shouldn’t be used in conjunction with childbirth. There are so many more precise ways we can talk about the life-changing experience of giving birth, so much possibility for opening up the discussion to include clarity and compassion rather than categorization and judgment.
Language matters. Language shapes our lives and our perceptions of our lives. Let’s pay more attention to the words we use when we speak about women’s bodies and childbirth and maybe, just maybe, we’ll start to change the way we think about them, too.
The post A Baby Coming Out of a Vagina Is a Vaginal Birth: There’s No Such Thing as ‘Natural’ appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Activists and citizens in Ferguson, Missouri, and around the country gathered in the streets Monday night to protest the killing of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer.
In the months since Brown was killed, activists used social media to organize protesters, held trainings in nonviolent civil disobedience techniques, and made preparations to ensure the safety of protesters less than 90 days after local police deployed a military-style crackdown on local residents.
A grand jury declined to indict Wilson for the killing of Brown, igniting protests in Ferguson and across the country.
Social justice activists in Ferguson had organized protests in response to the announcement both in Ferguson and throughout the country. The Ferguson National Response Network aggregated dozens of organized actions.
At least 61 people were arrested in the Ferguson area overnight, according to reporting by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Law enforcement there once again responded to protesters with tear gas and militarized tactics.
Tensions in Ferguson had grown more and more intense in the week leading up to the grand jury’s decision.
Larry Fellows III, an organizer from St. Louis, told RH Reality Check in an interview that the mood before the announcement was “tense and very eerie” and that not one person on the ground was expecting an indictment.
The reactions and tactics of local law enforcement were a major concern for Fellows, as activists planned for protests Monday evening in response to the announcement. Fellows said he was worried about police violence more than violence from protesters.
Ferguson’s law enforcement tactics had grown more aggressive in the days leading up to grand jury’s verdict, according to reports, with police showing up to small local protests heavily armed and dressed in riot gear.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon called in the National Guard and declared a preemptive state of emergency, and directed the Missouri State Highway Patrol, St. Louis County Police Department, and St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to “operate as a Unified Command.”
Many thousands gathered in the streets of Ferguson Monday night heard the verdict broadcast over car radios. Fellows said that the people gathered were upset but largely peaceful.
Within the first few hours after the verdict was announced, social media was flooded with reports of aggressive police tactics and tear gas being used on protesters as well as reports of cars set on fire and businesses vandalized.
The Brown family lawyer told MSNBC that relatives were “praying for an indictment” and were “trying to put their faith in the justice system.” At least for the time being, the family’s prayers have not been answered, though federal charges could still be filed against Wilson.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch gave an extensive statement Monday night describing the entire investigation and grand jury process, before revealing that the grand jury had not returned an indictment.
McCulloch laid blame for the unrest in Ferguson on the media, claiming that “the 24-hour news cycle” contributed to misinformation. McCulloch never mentioned the leaks from sources within Ferguson law enforcement that have fueled rampant media speculation.
On August 20, the jury began hearing evidence related to Wilson shooting and killing Brown 11 days earlier. The jury was tasked to determine “whether a crime was committed and whether there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed it.”
The jury consisted of three Black members and nine white members. An indictment requires nine of those 12 votes.
Evidence was presented to the jury by two assistant prosecutors from McCulloch’s office. McCulloch has a long controversial history in the community, and faced accusations of bias and siding with local law enforcement in cases of police brutality and violence.
McCulloch took questions from the media following his prepared statement. The prosecutor refused to engage questions about the racial disparities in police violence or the problematic nature of a justice system that allows police officers to often shoot and kill civilians with impunity.
After the verdict was announced, the Brown family released a statement that said they were “profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.”
Shortly after McCulloch’s press conference, President Obama gave a televised statement addressing the verdict, during which he extended his sympathy to the Brown family but warned against civil unrest. “First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law,” Obama said. “And so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make.”
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