Proof that anti-abortion laws hurt ALL pregnant women

We’re only just starting to see the impacts of new extreme anti-abortion legislation that has been passed around the country.

As I argue in this post, these laws also restrict the choices of women who want to parent. I’m going to try to keep an eye on the stories that highlight these connections because I think it busts open the myth that anti-choice activists are only focused on restricting abortion. They’re actually focused on restricting women’s autonomy in a myriad of ways related to pregnancy.

From Nebraska State Paper:

Nebraska’s new abortion law forced Danielle Deaver to live through ten excruciating days, waiting to give birth to a baby that she and her doctors knew would die minutes later, fighting for breath that would not come.

And that’s what happened. The one-pound, ten-ounce girl, Elizabeth, was born December 8th. Deaver and husband Robb watched, held and comforted the baby as it gasped for air, hoping she was not suffering. She died 15 minutes later.

The sponsor of the controversial Nebraska statute, Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, told the Des Moines Register that the law worked as it was intended in the Deavers’ case.

“Even in these situations where the baby has a terminal condition or there’s not much chance of surviving outside of the womb, my point has been and remains that is still a life,” Flood said in an interview with the Iowa newspaper.

The law, the only one of its kind in America, prohibits abortions after the 20th week. It is based on the disputed argument that a fetus may feel pain at that stage. It took effect last October.

These situations, while rare, do happen. Not all women, when faced with a fetus that is known not to be viable, would choose to terminate early. Some would want to carry the fetus to term, and spend that time in whatever way they choose.

The point is: she should have a choice. No one should be forced to carry an unviable fetus to term. No one should have lawmakers interfering with a medical decision that should be kept between the family and the medical providers.

“Our hands were tied,” Danielle Deaver of Grand Island told The Register in a story published Sunday.  “The outcome of my pregnancy, that choice was made by God. I feel like how to handle the end of my pregnancy, that choice should have been mine, and it wasn’t because of a law.”

Also, what kind of BS argument is that about fetal pain? For one thing, the research behind the idea of fetal pain is super sketchy. And for another, what about the suffering of this newborn as it died?

I’ll keep saying it over and over: anti-abortion laws don’t just hurt women who want to terminate their pregnancies. They also hurt women who want to parent.

h/t Mary M.

How reproductive rights and disability rights go together

This statement was crafted and released by a group of activists this week, in response to recent events, about how reproductive rights and disability rights go together. Thanks to Laura Hershey for reaching out to me about it. I started a very 101 conversation about birthing rights and disability justice with this post, but this statement takes the connections to a much bigger and more political level.

It is a must read.

An excerpt:

As people committed to both disability rights and reproductive rights, we believe that respecting women and families in their reproductive decisions requires simultaneously challenging discriminatory attitudes toward people with disabilities. We refuse to accept the bifurcation of women’s rights from disability rights, or the belief that protecting reproductive rights requires accepting ableist assumptions about the supposed tragedy of disability. On the contrary, we assert that reproductive rights includes attention to disability rights, and that disability rights requires attention to human rights, including reproductive rights.

We offer the following statement in response to two recent events that promote eugenic reproductive decision-making, and that further stigmatize disabled people by presenting disability exclusively in terms of suffering and hardship. Although seemingly disparate events, they share the presumption that disability renders a life not worth living and that people with disabilities are a burden on society. Moreover, they seem to imply that the only appropriate response to disability is elimination, thereby limiting women’s reproductive choices; they suggest that all women must either abort fetuses with disabilities or use IVF to de-select for disability.

Read the full statement here and sign on.

We’re a growing movement ya’ll

It’s been almost four years since I entered into the world of blogging, and almost six since I became a doula and a birth activist.

And you know what? We’re a seriously expanding movement.

It’s been absolutely amazing to watch. Since starting this blog to try and connect with other radically-minded, pro-choice, activist doulas, since collaborating with Mary and Lauren on the seeds of what have become a flourishing Doula Project in NYC, from writing this first article about some of the pioneers of the abortion doula movement.

So much has changed in such a short time.

Let’s break it down:

First of all, the birth activist movement is blowing up. We’ve got doulas coming out of our ears, amazing fired up midwives and birth activists pushing for better access to midwifery care, improved policies in hospitals, insurance coverage of midwives and home birth and doulas. We’ve got parents around the country waking up to the bad state of birth in the US, and trying to change it. We’ve got a movement of folks trying to eradicate the inhumane practice of shackling incarcerated women. We’ve got prison doula projects, volunteer doula projects, all sorts of birth activism.

Then we’ve got this amazing community of “full spectrum” doulas–folks like you and me who have a radical intersectional view of their doula work, who want to support folks in every phase of pregnancy: birth, abortion, adoption, miscarriage, even other basic reproductive health services like colposcopy.

Thanks to the amazing work of the Doula Project NYC, there are doula projects popping up around the country–in at least 4 other cities and counting.

A lot of the folks involved in this movement have been doulas for a long time, and are now expanding their services. But many of them, like me, are young, childless activists (many from the reproductive justice movement) who have been called to doula work because of this amazing intersectional stuff happening. How rad is that? I had someone tell me at an event recently–I thought all doulas were hippy earth mamas with long flowing skirts, until I met you. We’re queerer than ever before, more diverse than ever before.

We’re changing the face of birth activism every single day.

Laurel Ripple Carpenter from Cuntastic (and one of the first Radical Doula Profiles) just launched a social networking site for all of these amazing doulas, the Full Spectrum Doula Network. Check it out. Join, connect with other bad-ass doulas like yourself and let’s keep this movement growing.

I feel blessed to be a part of this amazing new wave of activism. From profiling all the amazing doulas on this blog, to helping to found the Doula Project in NYC, to coming back to the project (yay!) after years away and getting to be part of the work of a full spectrum doula again, it’s amazing to be here and to work with all of you.

So let’s keep this work going ya’ll. For serious.

Victory in Kentucky: Fetuses cannot be legally disconnected from the pregnant woman carrying them

Via the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, some good news on the legal front:

I am thrilled to let you know that the Kentucky Supreme Court once again refused to advance the war on drugs to women’s wombs and made clear that pregnant women, no less than other persons, are protected by the rule of law. By refusing to accept the prosecution’s argument that the “unborn” should be legally disconnected from the pregnant women who carry them and treated as if they were separate legal persons, this decision protects the civil and reproductive rights and health of all women in Kentucky.

In this case, a pregnant woman was prosecuted in flagrant disregard for Kentucky law, embodied in its Maternal Health Act of 1992, and binding Kentucky Supreme Court precedent. NAPW worked extensively with the defendant’s talented public defenders (including Jamesa Drake, who presented a brilliant oral argument) and many treatment, recovery, and health allies in the commonwealth. NAPW, with attorneys Allison Harris of Shearman & Sterling and Kentucky Attorney Michael Goodwin, filed an amicus brief to highlight the negative public health consequences that would arise if drug-using women were to be punished for becoming mothers. Twenty-five public health organizations, advocates, and experts were represented on our brief (see list below) and more than sixty were represented as amici in the case. Today’s opinion reinforces the importance of Kentucky’s public health approach to the issues of drug use and pregnancy, and the fact that prosecutors should not be allowed to legally separate the fetus from the pregnant woman who carries and nurtures it.

Some of the scariest changes in laws regarding women, autonomy and pregnancy happen at the legal level, across the US. This is a big victory. Read the rest of NAPW’s post here.

Worried about women of color? Thanks but no thanks anti-choicers. We’ve got it covered.

I have another piece up at RH Reality Check today. Apparently it’s my week for publication! This one has a lot more opinion and snark than yesterday’s. I was responding to the recent efforts on behalf of the anti-choice community to argue that abortion is being used by groups like Planned Parenthood as a form of eugenics against women of color.

Latinas and other women of color don’t need to be protected by paternalistic ideologues motivated by a political agenda that disregards the needs of women of color and their families. So thanks for your concern, anti-choicers, but I think the women of color advocates working within the reproductive justice movement have got it covered. We’re working in those clinics you attack, we’re helping to shape policies and provide services in our communities, services that allow us to decide what our needs are.

We know whom we can trust to make decisions about family creation: women themselves. We don’t need limits on what services we can access.  And we don’t need your ideological bullying.

The next time one of your crisis pregnancy centers, one of your dramatic billboards, or one of your bogus pieces of “sex and race selection” legislation actually works to support women through whatever choice they make for their families—we’ll talk.

Read the rest here.

How about we call it blog for justice day?

Today is blog for choice day, a chance for the blog world to commemorate the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade–on it’s 37th year!

Each year, I find myself unable to write about choice without talking about why I want it to be justice instead.

As I’ve talked about before, choice isn’t enough.

Choice doesn’t recognize that we don’t all have a choice. That often times our choices are impacted by what others want, by what we can afford, by what we will allow ourselves to do.

Our choices are mediated by politicians, religious figures, our paycheck this month. Our choices are limited by our family members, our lovers, what we see on TV and who is close to us when we have to make a decision.

Our choices are determined by the color of our skin, the language that rolls off our tongues, the restrictions of our bodies, the gender we identify with and the people we love.

Our choices aren’t just about abortion, they’re also about how we live, how we create family, how we interact with our bodies, with society, and with the world.

So I’m going to spend today, instead of thinking about choice, thinking about justice.

Washington State: Only 30% of incarcerated women are shackled during labor

The Superintendent of the Corrections Center for Women (the only one in WA state that houses pregnant women) said 30% of women are shackled during labor in a recent MSNBC article.

Only 30%?! Wow, how nice of them.

Bills have been introduced in the Washington State House and Senate that would outlaw the inhumane practice of shackling incarcerated pregnant women during labor and delivery. The laws would prevent the use of any types of restraints on pregnant women who are incarcerated.

Let’s hope this law passes, so 30% can become zero.

Thanks to Peggy at Open Arms for the heads up!

“The idea that a woman maintains her human rights, even when she’s pregnant, is a radical new idea.”

The title comes from Lynn Paltrow, of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, on this segment of GRITtv. Also on the segment is Silvia Henriquez, Executive Director of National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

Video after the jump.

Continue reading

Is a “choice” a bad frame for childbirth?

There is an article in the UK newspaper the Telegraph, about Sheila Kitzinger, and her thoughts about a new UK plan to ensure all women have choice when it comes to where they give birth. From a US perspective, the plan is pretty radical. The choice includes home birth, a birth center attended by midwives and a traditional hospital setting.

Kitzinger supports the plan, but criticizes the language of choice:

“Choice comes from the language of advertising – it is what happens in supermarkets,” she said. “The idea is one of free choice but in fact the products at eye level are displayed to have the greatest impact on the consumer; it is the same with maternity.”

“Childbirth experts are often blamed for raising women’s expectations but I think you have to look further. I think the problem is a consumerist agenda. We are geared up to competition, to test everything; nowadays, we see birth as a performance,” she said.

Sound familiar to anyone?

Reproductive justice activists have long critiqued the reproductive rights movement for using the consumer based “choice” framework. They argue that not everyone has the same “choice” largely due to social and economic factors.

Moving from choice to justice has been a way to move the reproductive rights framework to a broader philosophy that incorporates the reality that many women do not have a choice–and their socio-economic situation, their race, their religion, etc don’t allow them to make these decisions.

One of the reasons “choice” is so popular, though, is that it removes judgment. If I say I am pro-choice, I’m not saying I like abortion or promote it, but that I value the right of every individual to decide. Same thing with birth. If the UK government supports every woman having a choice, they are not saying that homebirth is good, or hospital birth bad, but that every person should be able to decide.

But “choice” still ignores that there are factors that influence us, often that we don’t have control over. Those factors could be doctor’s opinions, family pressures, economic circumstances, access issues, cultural barriers. This is another place where the reproductive justice and birth activist movements find commonality–“choice” isn’t working too well for either movement.

Reproductive rights folks have latched onto “justice” as a frame instead. Reproductive justice works toward a world where all people have the resources and support they need to make decisions about family creation. I think birth activism fits neatly into that framework, which is part of the reason I write about how these issues overlap.

Bellevue shuts down birth center for low-income women

Word got out a few weeks ago that Bellevue, a hospital in Manhattan (New York City) was shutting down their in-hospital birth center which was opened in 1998. It was the only birth center in Manhattan to accept Medicaid, and probably one of the few around the country serving low-income women.

From the NY Times:

The center gave healthy women the opportunity to give birth in a comfortable environment absent the frenetic bustle of a normal hospital delivery ward. Roughly 85 percent of the patients were Chinese- or Spanish-speaking immigrants, most of them referred though Gouverneur Healthcare Services on the Lower East Side. (All midwives were required to be fluent in either Mandarin or Spanish.)

The center allowed healthy expecting mothers to walk around, bathe in a Jacuzzi as a way to reduce pain naturally, and choose to forgo common but invasive medical techniques like induced labor and epidural blocks. Unlike women who chose natural birth at home, patients had immediate access to hospital facilities if there were complications.

Fans of the birth center said that it had a Caesarean rate of less than 4 percent over its lifetime; the hospital said that such a statistic was not available.

According to the NY Times, the closing was done secretively and without much notice to the public or even the hospital advisory board. While economics was cited as the reason for the closure, this flies in the face of the information about how the birth center reduced interventions (and cost) for women who delivered there.

I think this is just further proof that most hospitals don’t care that much about outcomes or patient satisfaction–they care about money. Rumor is that the birth center will be leased out for some other purpose (generating revenue via rent or the income of whatever facility they install).

Here’s the financial math that I think is insidious and behind this kind of decision:

While you would think it’s a good thing that these patients were having births that were much less expensive (because of lower interventions and c-sections), it actually means the hospital loses revenue. Why? Because they don’t have as much to bill Medicaid for, meaning less money for the hospital.

What does that mean? Our current system of health care (which is primarily profit driven) doesn’t result in the best care for women, or their children. It’s the same logic that has created our health care system which spends way more per capita than any other country in the world, but has relatively bad outcomes.

In 2002, the United States spent $5,267 per capita on health care—53 percent more than Switzerland, the next-highest-spending country, and 140 percent more than the median OECD country.

Want to try and get the Bellevue Birth Center back? Sign this petition by Choices in Childbirth.