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The most important op-ed you’ll read this year

December 1, 2014

This op-ed is a few weeks old at this point, but I wanted to make sure everyone saw it and takes note. As birth activists, this is one of our most important connections to the broader movement for reproductive rights and justice. Even if you are not supportive of abortion rights, you need to understand the ways the new wave of laws that are trying to limit abortion rights are also impacting the rights of those who are trying to parent and give birth in the way they see fit.

With the success of Republicans in the midterm elections and the passage of Tennessee’s anti-abortion amendment, we can expect ongoing efforts to ban abortion and advance the “personhood” rights of fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses.

But it is not just those who support abortion rights who have reason to worry. Anti-abortion measures pose a risk to all pregnant women, including those who want to be pregnant.

Such laws are increasingly being used as the basis for arresting women who have no intention of ending a pregnancy and for preventing women from making their own decisions about how they will give birth.

How does this play out? Based on the belief that he had an obligation to give a fetus a chance for life, a judge in Washington, D.C., ordered a critically ill 27-year-old woman who was 26 weeks pregnant to undergo a cesarean section, which he understood might kill her. Neither the woman nor her baby survived.

One of the authors of this is Lynn Paltrow, who is in many ways responsible for the birth of Radical Doula, explicitly because of her work to bring birth activists and abortion rights folks together.

This op-ed is an exciting breakthrough for Lynn and her organization National Advocates for Pregnant Women, and while it was precipitated by a series of really damaging laws and lawsuits, I’m hoping this represents a shift in framing of what these laws really are. From the op-ed:

We should be able to work across the spectrum of opinion about abortion to unite in the defense of one basic principle: that at no point in her pregnancy should a woman lose her civil and human rights.

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Two election reflections: Latino myth-busting & the white women’s vote

November 10, 2014

I’ve been writing a weekly column at Colorlines these last five months. My areas of focus are gender and race, so I’ve written about all sorts of topics, including a tax break for Black and Latino men, how control over time impacts healthcare workers, the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, race and gender in American education, helping more people of color learn to code, fatkinis, an angry response to the NY Times erasure of women of color and the reproductive justice movement, children’s books highlighting QPOC families, and more.

If you want to follow along with those articles, you can follow Colorlines on facebook, follow my main twitter feed, or subscribe to my email list. I’m planning to revive it in the coming weeks, and send a weekly-ish email with my latest writing.

I don’t post everything I write elsewhere here, since I want to keep Radical Doula focused on birth activism and related topics, but these two election related pieces felt relevant to share.

First, I wrote about new polling from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health that shows Latinos in Texas are widely supportive of abortion access, contrary to stereotypes about the community:

I spent Valentine’s Day 2007 at a community center in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. I was there with a colleague from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) where I was working as an organizer. We’d come to facilitate a reproductive justice advocacy training with a group of local women. They varied in age from early 20s to 50s, and had been gathered by a group of local promotoras—health promoters—who had been working in rural, isolated trailer park-like communities (known as colonias) with no municipal resources (running water, sewer systems, trash collection).

I no longer work for NLIRH, but their work in Texas has continued. A new poll they commissioned in late October supports what I experienced that week in South Texas—Latino attitudes on abortion are much less polemic than we’re encouraged to believe. When it comes down to it, the majority of Latino likely voters don’t think politicians should be able to interfere in a woman’s decision regarding abortion.

Read the full article here.

Finally on Thursday I published a reflection on last week’s election results, honing in on the difference between voting trends for white women and Black and Latina women:

When you look at Tuesday’s election results by gender, it seems that the Democrats and Republicans split the women’s vote pretty evenly, with a few percentage points in favor of Dems. But when you examine that data by gender and race, you’ll get a wholly different picture that highlights an Achilles’ heel for Democrats: white women.

Exit polls released by CNN show that white women’s votes went to the Republicans by a margin of 13 percent. Fifty-six percent of white women voted Republican while only 43 percent voted Democrat.

And if you look at the numbers for black and brown women, you see just how big the race gap really is. Ninety percent of black women and 67 precent of Latina women voted Democrat. (It’s worth noting that Black and Latino men also voted for Democrats more than white women did—86 and 58 percent respectively.) Even when you break it down by age, the white vote went to Republicans. These numbers mean even more when you consider that white people make up two-thirds of the electorate, with the vote evenly split between white men and women.

Considering a lot of progressive effort goes to turning out Black and Latino voters (even though the majority of organizational leadership and staff is white), I think this week’s results show a need for progressives to also figure out how to talk to, and move, white voters.


NYTimes: Abortion and Birth, Together

June 25, 2014

In case you missed this article from two weeks ago, I was interviewed by journalist Alissa Quart for an article about full spectrum reproductive justice work.

These doulas partner with clinics directly and accompany women to their operations, helping to alleviate pain through techniques like massage, acupressure and breathing. One of them is Ms. Pérez. When I met her in a Lower Manhattan cafe, she explained how she and others like her volunteered for years at hospitals and clinics, accompanying many women whom they met in waiting rooms for their abortions. Ms. Pérez speaks Spanish, and sometimes she would translate as well. “I want to push back against the idea that birth is over here in this corner and abortion is over there in that one,” she says.

This is by no means the first article I’ve been interviewed for over the years, and not even the first that was maybe going to be in the NYTimes. That kind of media coverage comes with the territory of being easily found by googling “abortion doula”–mostly a product of how long this blog has been around (7.5 years!). Also in the interest of full disclosure on how the media world works, Alissa and I have a mutual friend who also suggested she talk to me.

But it’s clear that the work of full spectrum doulas is gaining some momentum, and some media recognition. This NYT article is a big one, simply because of the level of visibility that such a publication has. And I won’t lie, there was a thrill in picking up an actual physical newspaper and seeing my name, and quote, in print.

Just a few days after the NYT article went live, another article about abortion doulas, this one featuring the work of Lauren Mitchell, a co-founder of the NYC Doula Project, was published.

And there are more to come (I’ve already gotten another interview request from a journalist wanting to write about the topic). I always offer additional suggestions of people in this work to talk to, usually suggesting other doulas of color, and I’ll continue to do that. This movement has been fueled by the labor (pun intended) of many, and it’s important to me that my blog, and writing, don’t overshadow the many people who’ve contributed and led this work.

It’s exciting to see the fruits of so many years of work from so many of you turning it to legitimate attention. I do think the connections between abortion and birth highlighted in the NYT article are radical and affirming and have the potential to counter a really damaging political environment that tries to drive a wedge between experiences that are part of our lives.

I got one question from a midwife after the article was published, in reference to this quote:

“Midwives didn’t talk about abortion, really,” says Miriam Zoila Pérez, a doula and author of “The Radical Doula Guide.” And, she said, “some people in the midwife community are anti-choice.”

She wrote to ask if I was misquoted, and talked about the many midwives (herself included) who are indeed pro-choice. I know, and am really happy to know, that there are many in the midwifery community who are supportive of all reproductive choices, including abortion. Midwives are abortion providers in many places of the world, including in California now that legislation allowing midwives to provide some abortions passed last year.

What the first half of my quote was referencing was my experience in the birth activist community, particularly in 2005-2009, where I never heard abortion referenced overtly, particularly in birth activist writings or at the MANA conference I attended in 2005 or 2006. While the political orientation of midwives when it comes to abortion varies widely, there has been a history of silence on the topic, I assume in an effort to avoid conflict and focus on common ground between politically disparate groups. There is a contingency of midwives and doulas with strong religious views that are anti-choice. I in no means want to minimize the amazing work of pro-choice and full-spectrum midwives, but much of what lead me to start this blog was that silence on issues like abortion (as well as race, sexuality, immigration, gender and more).

I’m excited to see these topics being addressed in a more overt fashion across the birth activist world, and hope we’re moving closer to providing truly comprehensive and non-judgmental support to folks throughout their reproductive lives.

 


Asheville, NC full spectrum doula group looking for new volunteer doulas

February 13, 2013

Check them out and apply if you are interested.

We are looking for people interested in training as abortion doulas to work with clients in the clinic. Doulas will be present and provide emotional support to clients before, during and after abortions. We are looking for people who can work at least 2 days a month as well as complete the required training, provided by the Open Umbrella Collective in September of 2012. Trained birth doulas are particularly encouraged to apply, though we are excited to bring on reproductive health and justice activists who have no prior doula training.

Details here.


Bay Area Doula Project launches at home medication abortion support

February 12, 2013

I absolutely love seeing how the different full-spectrum doula groups around the country are developing their models. At this point, the majority are working to support people having abortions by partnering directly with clinics, so that everyone who comes to that clinic for a procedure has the option of doula support.

BADP just announced yesterday that they’ll be beginning to offer medication abortion support directly to people having abortions.

While providing the obvious benefits of privacy, confidentiality, and comfort, medication abortions pose some challenges to patients who may require extra support during their experience. Our doulas are prepared to offer in-home physical, emotional, educational, and spiritual support during the medication abortion experience. BADP has created a comprehensive model for providing in-home support after months of careful planning and training. To do this, we have consulted with medical experts, home-birth professional doula groups, and abortion access communities to ensure that it has responded to various practical concerns: for example, client contracts will be used to address issues of doula and client safety and legality of practice. The BADP has also created internal procedures to provide on-going guidance to volunteer doulas as they provide in-home support to clients.

Medication abortions are done through a series of pills that the person takes at home (sometimes the first dose is taken at the clinic) and then goes home where they will experience cramping and bleeding for a few days. BADP will send their volunteer doulas to support folks at home while they deal with the after-effects of the medication.

It’s possible there are other doulas out there who have already been providing this kind of support, but I’m excited to see a group organize volunteer care in this model. They’ve also created a training so that the doulas are adequately prepared. I can imagine a lot of the techniques we use during pregnancy and labor could be useful for dealing with the possible discomfort caused by the cramping and bleeding.


Remembering those still waiting for the promise of Roe

January 29, 2013

Last week marked the 40th anniversary of the historic Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision that opened the door for legal access to abortion in the US.
Every year the anniversary rolls around to different activities, commemorations, reflections. It’s my 7th anniversary as an active member of the broader reproductive justice community and I’m tired. Particularly as things play out in the media, as the different organizations put out their media initiatives, press releases, blog carnivals, I feel tired.

Tired of the same fights, tired of the old dynamics, tired of the fact that we’re losing. Generally, around the country, in those seven years since I’ve been part of this movement with a capital M, access to abortion has only gotten harder. More restrictions, more laws, more hurdles and barriers.

It’s tiring to fight a fight that we’re losing. From my latest column:

Each year, as the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade rolls around, I respond with a sigh. Each year comes the reminder that one complicated court case, hung on the premise of privacy, has wholly framed this movement I call home. The reminder that the conversation about Roe is usually uncomfortably celebratory. The reminder that the anti-choice movement almost always host rallies that outnumber ours by thousands on that day. The reminder that the media conversation tends to be dominated by white women who praise Roe, or questions of where the young people, like me, are in the “pro-choice” movement.

The reminder that the promise of Roe has yet to be achieved for many, and that hundreds of dedicated activists, my peers, use their spare time to raise money for those for whom Roe is a hypothetical promise when the bank account sum doesn’t add up and the state programs say no. Each year, the celebration feels even less celebratory, as the laws and restrictions pile onto themselves. The legal concept of doctor/patient privacy may protect the procedure, but it doesn’t protect against forced misinformation, ultrasounds, waiting periods, public shame and financial barriers.

But. But there is always that little inkling of hope, there are always those moments of change, of shifting, of opening that make you believe that maybe we are heading in the right direction. Full-spectrum doulas, and the movement we’re apart of, give me hope. The internet and the community it builds gives me hope. The Strong Families media series I helped promote this year that centered voices of people of color gives me hope. The video above, produced by an organization I’ve worked with for the last seven years (and just transitioned out of) gives me hope. It’s that hope the keeps me pushing even when I’m tired, even when I’m frustrated. You all give me hope.

You can read more about the media series in my latest column at RH Reality Check. I also had the fabulous opportunity to record a radio segment with Pati Garcia, aka Chula Doula, about the doula movement in honor of the Roe anniversary on a Los Angeles based show called Feministing Magazine on KPFK. Listen here!


Pro-choice pregnancy and the politics of language

December 13, 2012

I was inspired to write my latest column for RH Reality Check because of a number of emails I’ve gotten over the years with various questions about the issue of the language we use to talk about pregnancy and it’s impact on pro-choice politics.

From the column:

As a blogger and a doula, I think about this question of language a lot. What language to use when talking with people I’m supporting during their abortions? What about when supporting someone with a miscarriage? Should I use different language in one scenario over the other? How about when I write about these issues? If we call it a baby at only eight weeks, does that compromise our right to access abortion?

For me the answer is no. The reason that abortion is a decision best left to individuals who are pregnant is because it’s a complicated ethical and personal choice that one can only make for themselves. While there may be a lot of science regarding fetal development, when hearts beat and nervous systems are developed, there is no right answer when it comes to when life begins. It’s a question and a choice that every individual person has to grapple with for themselves. The same is true for the language of pregnancy and birth.

I do my best to mirror the language of the people I’m working with. If they call it a baby, I’ll call it a baby. If they call it a pregnancy, or a fetus, or a itty-bitty bundle of joy, I’ll do the same. Nothing about these language choices denotes anything about what choices should be available to pregnant people—it simply denotes how that individual person sees themselves and their pregnancy.

Read the full piece here.


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