Coercive sterilization is not a thing of the past

This article in The Modesto Bee, authored by Corey G. Johnson of the Center for Investigative Reporting, shows what many of us have assumed: coercive sterilization is not a historical practice—it’s a present reality. While fights rage on across the nation to maintain our access to safe and legal abortion procedures, for some folks, the fight to maintain the ability to become pregnant, and parent those kids, continues.

These fights, primarily because they impact low-income folks of color, don’t get the kind of attention and resources that other battles do. There is racism and classism in this divide, and we have to do all we can to raise hell and attention for the ways population control efforts continue today in this country.

From the article:

Doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized nearly 150 female inmates from 2006 to 2010 without required state approvals, the Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

Former inmates and prisoner advocates maintain that prison medical staff coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison in the future.

The article explains that the reason these procedures required state approval is precisely because of the history of coercive sterilization for incarcerated women. Court cases in the 1970s based on the discovery that Latina women in California public hospitals were being sterilized without proper consent led to a set of rules regarding how and when you can properly consent to a sterilization procedure (like a tubal ligation).

In order to obtain consent, you have to provide consent information and documents in the patient’s native language (Latina women were found to have signed papers in English consenting to the procedure, despite not speaking English) and you also can’t obtain consent during labor or delivery.

In addition, this article explains that federal funds could not be used to provide sterilization procedures to incarcerated folks because of fear of coercion.

From this reporting, which relied on the work of Justice Now, an organization working with folks on the inside to eradicate prisons, coercion is exactly what took place in many of these sterilizations.

One interesting thread throughout the article, which is distinct from the historical incidences of coercive sterilization, is the use of repeat c-sections as a medical rationale by the doctors quoted for these procedures. With repeat c-sections, they say, there is a risk of uterine rupture upon subsequent pregnancies.

The question there, of course, is why so many c-sections to begin with? I don’t buy it, and assume it’s just a medical attempt to cover up what is really a procedure pushed because of judgement about who should parent, and how many children someone should have, particularly someone who is incarcerated.

I increasingly get more and more infuriated about how little attention in the reproductive rights arena goes to the struggles of low-income, people of color trying to maintain their right to pregnancy, parenting and bodily autonomy. If you are truly doing reproductive justice work, than this issue should get as much attention as any abortion rights fight.

Want to know how to support these efforts? A donation to Justice Now is a good place to start.

Why the public funding debate could end abortion access all together

My latest column is up at RH Reality Check, reflecting on this 36th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, and why our movement’s decision not to go to battle for public funding for abortion is leading us down a slippery slope that could result in a total ban on abortion.

Sunday was the kind of anniversary you wish you didn’t have to celebrate: specifically, the 36th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, one of the most restrictive reproductive rights laws in recent history. It restricts the use of federal funds for abortion services, meaning that people on publicly-funded insurance programs like Medicaid and Medicare (the low-income and the disabled) have to pay for abortion services out of pocket. The vast majority of the women affected by this ban are low-income, and if you are poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, you aren’t likely to be able to shell out anywhere from $300 to $3000 for an abortion procedure.

Efforts to repeal the Hyde amendment are more often than not seen as unrealistic, and advocates work instead to maintain the status quo—low-income women denied access to abortion. Often the argument is that if we try and fight the public funding battle, we might lose ground in overall access to abortion. But I think that the exact opposite is true. If we don’t fight the public funding debate, we’re going to lose altogether.

Even though the real reason to fight these policies is that no one should be restricted access to a medical procedure just because they are poor–sometimes it’s also important to demonstrate how these policies actually put everyone’s access at risk, low-income or not. The reason is because we live in a classist society, and low-income people’s needs are not always represented in the agenda of big movements. So their needs get sold out in an effort to preserve access overall, but what I’m arguing is that overall access is being put at risk because of these concessions.

Read the whole thing here.

A labor day fundraiser: Bringing doula care to low-income folks

Hi everyone! I’m finally (and a bit reluctantly) back from vacation month. I hope everyone is enjoying the official end of summer this weekend.

Peggy from Open Arms Perinatal Services emailed me about a labor day fundraiser. Open Arms is a volunteer doula group based in the Seattle area that provides doula care (culturally matched!) to low-income folks. One thing that’s great about Open Arms is they pay their doulas the market rate, and the clients are able to access the services free of charge.

While we all volunteer our time, this type of volunteering without income is not accessible for all of us. I appreciate that Open Arms works to provide doula care to low income folks AND understands that not all doulas are able to work for free.

They are fundraising for exactly this–the funds to provide doula care to low-income folks–in honor of labor day.

They’re about $1400 away from their goal of raising enough to provide doula care to five pregnant folks.

Can you chip in in honor of labor day?

The Cost of Being Born at Home

Check out my latest article at RH Reality Check, The Cost of Being Born at Home:

Yesterday in New York City, Julie Finefrock appeared before the health fund subcommittee of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as part of her appeal of their denial of her homebirth coverage. Ms. Finefrock, who is six months pregnant, is married to an SEIU employee. Their insurance plan excludes homebirth coverage, despite New York State regulations that require that private insurance cover out-of-hospital birth with a licensed practitioner. Ms. Finefrock’s situation is just one example of a larger fight to increase access to homebirth nationally, and it’s a fight that has ramped up due to new media attention to the issue.

One mother laboring with her midwife on the roof of her Cobble Hill penthouse, gorgeous Manhattan skyline in the background. Another holding her newborn on her living room couch, exposed brick and high ceilings behind her. These are just two of the scenes from the November New York Times article and slideshow about the growing interest among New York City women in birthing at home. These images paint a very specific picture of homebirth–all the women were pictured in spacious, nicely decorated apartments and, with the exception of one African-American woman, all were white. Watch the popular Ricki Lake documentary The Business of Being Born, released last year, and you get a similar story: Lake and her interviewees were all financially well off and could afford to choose to birth at home. Neither the Times article nor Lake’s film touched on one thing that all these women seemed to have in common–money.

Read the rest here. Thanks to everyone who emailed me their thoughts and commentary. I really appreciate it!

Home birth and class

I’m working on an article for RH Reality Check about the lack of class perspective in the home birth debate. It seems to me that much of the discussion about home birth (and other alternative birth options) are framed in the terms of consumer choice, which doesn’t take into consideration those who can’t make that choice, or don’t have that option (for reasons of insurance, money, providers, home environment,etc). I wrote about this a while back when the NYTimes had that story about home birth that seemed to only feature wealthy white women in NYC.

I’m looking for doulas, midwives and other birth advocates/activists who have experience with home birth and thoughts on this issue.

Please email me at RadicaldoulaATgmailDOTcom.


Home birth in the NYTimes, minus class analysis

An article from this weekend’s NYTimes chronicles the rising trend in home births in NYC. It partially credits the recent Ricki Lake documentary, The Business of Being Born.

The article does a good job of addressing the different challenges for women giving birth in their NYC apartments. It takes about space concerns, neighbor issues, clean up and hospital transfers. The article is also accompanied by a slideshow of photos from various home births.

What the article doesn’t address is the huge class divide in these types of births. I, as a doula and general advocate of midwives and out of hospital births, am a huge supporter of home births. I think they are better for moms and babies who have low-risk pregnancies. I think moms feel more comfortable and are away from the stress and pressure of a hospital. She is on her own time line, no questions asked.

But the huge drawback to promoting home birth is that it is primarily an option for upper middle class women. Not everyone has a home that is safe to birth in. This could be because of family circumstances, overcrowding, lack of support from partners or simply lack of adequate space. There are also obvious financial barriers since most insurance companies won’t cover home births.

It’s unfortunate that an article about birth in NYC didn’t address this issue at all, seeing as it is such a diverse city, in terms of both class and race.

Also, once again an article about women’s health is marginalized, this one was placed in the Home and Garden section. At least it wasn’t in Fashion and Style this time.

Cross-posted at Feministing