Monthly Archives: April 2007

Sex Ed(itorials) in the New York Times.

The New York Times had two important editorials in the past three days dealing with important issues of sex and policy.

Today‘s took up the case, again, of Genarlow Wilson, the young man in Georgia who is still serving time in prison for the consensual oral sex he had when he was 17 with a girl who was two years younger. Specifically, the Times chastises the DA in the case for continuing to focus on the rape that occurred at that party (of which Wilson was acquitted) and even circulating the video that was made of the rape, as part of his lobbying effort against Genarlow Wilson’s release. This after the legislature in Georgia corrected its own laws to make the sex that Wilson had a misdemeanor rather than a felony as it was when he had it. (My other posts on Wilson’s case here, here, and here.

And this past Saturday, the Times called on Congress to drop the “abstinence only” and encourage teaching about abstinence to be a part of a comprehensive sex education program. This after a major study, mandated by Congress, of four abstinence only programs implemented in middle schools showed absolutely no impact on the choices that subjects made about whether and when to engage in sex. Saturday’s editorial mentions that at least 9 states have given up the federal matching grants because they could not, in good conscience, bring themselves to “forbid the promotion of contraceptive use and require teaching that sex outside marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects” which is what the federal program requires.

It’s good to see sensible sex talk in the mainstream press, and since it happens not-as-frequently as I’d like, I’ve decided to spotlight it when I can. If you come across an editorial about sex that you think is particularly appropriate for this site, please feel free to send it along! (Use the Email Elizabeth contact form.)

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Filed under abstinence only, Education, Genarlow Wilson, Health, News and politics, public discourse, sex and health, sex crimes, sex education, sexuality and age

Remembering Sex Workers on Workers’ Memorial Day

Today is Workers’ Memorial Day, a day to remember people who have died because of unsafe conditions on the job, or because their jobs are simply dangerous by nature, and to also recommit ourselves to working for safer workplaces and safer jobs.

Because this is Sex in the Public Square and because sex work is such an important issue to me, I want to dedicate this space today to remembering sex workers who’ve died because of their work, and to tell you about a way that labor unions can help.

Last December, when I attended an End Violence Against Sex Workers vigil, names of sex workers who’d been killed in 2006 were read. There were more than 60 names. Most of them I did not know. I knew the names of the four sex workers — Molly Jean Dilts, Kim Raffo, Tracy Ann Roberts and Barbara V. Breider— killed in Atlantic City, because their murders made the national news. There were also the names of the five who’d been killed in Suffolk England — Tania Nicol, Paula Clennell, Anneli Alderton, Gemma Adam, Annette Nicholls — because that case made international news. But more often violence against sex workers goes unreported. It is only when a string of murders happens that we pay attention. Violence against individual sex workers is largely off our radar and thus much less likely to get a serious response. This is unconscionable.

There are some important principles that I think could motivate much more concern for sex worker safety:

1. No women are safe until sex workers are safe. As long as being a prostitute makes one a target for violence, and as long as that violence can be perpetrated with much less risk of sanction, and as long as all women are potentially identifiable as prostitutes, no women are safe until sex workers are safe.

2. An injury to one is an injury to all. When we don’t speak up to protect the safety of other groups, we cannot expect much support when we ourselves are targeted. Solidarity is important across groups of workers. Stigma and bias only serve to divide us.

I’m thinking about this all the more because I just came from the Representative Assembly of my state-wide union, New York State United Teachers. This was my first time at the RA. I learned that a central component of the RA is the considering of resolutions that will guide the organization’s work in the coming year (and beyond). I attended the Civil and Human Rights Committee meeting and at that meeting a resolution was considered — and overwhelmingly supported — calling for strong anti-trafficking laws. I was impressed by the way the resolution was worded. It recognized that not all trafficked people are sex workers, and its focus was clearly on the trafficking and not on sex work itself. Also, and also it called for legislation that would explicitly make having been trafficked into a defense for those who get caught working in illegal jobs so that they are not punished but their traffickers are.

To the degree that this does pertain to people trafficked for sex work, this does not go quite far enough though. In order to achieve the goals that it sets out to achieve, such a resolution ought to also include support for the organizing of sex workers, and perhaps support for the decriminalizing of sex work. Here’s why.

1. Trafficked workers’ main source of info is likely to be their traffickers. Traffickers are not going to inform their victims about their rights.

2. A defense can only be applied after an arrest. These workers should not be subjected to arrest in the first place.

3. Fear of arrest keeps workers from attempting to access the kinds of services that the laws demanded by the resolution would support.

4. The stigma attached to sex work makes it very difficult for people trafficked into sex work to “come out” about their situations, and it also makes it difficult for people to “reach out” to them! Statements by large unions in support of their right to organize would help combat that that stigma.

I am proud to belong to a union that actively works to rectify social injustices, and I believe in the power of the labor movement to be a strong engine driving this society in the direction of progressive social change. But I want my labor movement to affirm the rights of all workers, to organize all workers, and that includes sex workers.

Imagine if Molly Jean Dilts, Kim Raffo, Tracy Ann Roberts and Barbara V. Breider had belonged to a union! Imagine if the women who are trafficked into go-go bars and massage parlors had a union.

Remember that sex workers can and do organize, but they face tremendous challenges and they need support. In addition, the more organized the sex industry becomes, the less it will become a receiver of trafficked workers.

After all, it’s a lot harder to traffic someone into a strong union shop!
~~~~~~
Click here for the Trafficking Policy Research Project (examining the effect of US anti-trafficking legislation)

And here are some links to organizations that are working to make sex workers safer, and to destigmatize sex work:

And, keep your eyes open for the Sex Worker Visions II Art Show, organized by $pread Magazine. You can read about it here and here.

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Filed under activism, feminism, inequality, labor organizing, sex, sex work

Wage equality is a queer issue, too!

Yesterday I posted about Equal Pay Day, and the discussion was one that assumed heterosexual marriage as a foundation. But issues of wage inequality, and economic issues in general, are queer issues, too, and the gender wage gap is an interesting one.

Women typically earn less than men, so female-headed households are more likely to struggle financially than are male-headed households. In fact, 29% of families with female householders are officially poor. For female-headed households with children under 18, this jumps to 38%, and for female-headed households with young children (under five), the percentage that are officially poor is even higher: 47%.

How does this have anything to do with sexuality? For one thing, women are more likely than men to have low incomes, and female-headed households are more likely to be poor, so women in same sex partnerships are more likely to struggle than are their male counterparts, and women living alone are in even worse shape.

Remember the big push for marriage-supportive policies during the 1996 Welfare Reform and again during Bush’s “Faith-based initiatives” agenda? It seems that the Bush administration, especially, believes that if people would just “do the right thing” and get married (and stay married), we’d have a lot less poverty. And the data appear to support that conclusion on the surface. Only 5% of married-couple families are officially poor, and if you look only at married couple families with children, the percentage only jumps to 7%. Quite different from the situation of single mothers, for example.

But there is a correlation/causation problem here: it isn’t marriage as a state of being that makes a difference. Marriage makes a difference because of the way that it is defined and the way it is treated by the state. Married couple families are less likely to be poor and more likely to have higher incomes in part because they are by definition going to have a man’s income to add to the ledger, and they are quite possibly going to have two incomes to add together. And then there are the many rights and benefits that married couple families are given. Lesbian couples, women or men living alone, or not having the privileges of marriage, are not going to have the same chances.

Making income and poverty politically a “queer issue” is not necessarily easy. For one thing, once it’s seen as an issue for queer folk, it has the potential to divide gay men from lesbians. In fact, single straight women and lesbians have more in common, and even married-couple families have more common ground with lesbian couples on this issue than would gay male couples. (This is not to suggest that there is no poverty among gay men, or that gay men raising children don’t face many of the same challenges that opposite-sex couples or lesbians raising children will face, but just to point out that where wages and occupations are concerned, gay men tend to benefit by being men.)

There is another reason to consider income and poverty from the perspective of sexuality: people have more sexual agency when they are not constrained by poverty. Women and men make choices about whether or not to begin or end sexual relationships in part based on economic factors. They are more or less free to leave abusive relationships depending on economic options. They are more or less free to remain single. Constrained income options are also among the reasons some people perform sex work. And then, of course, people who have to work multiple jobs or take on lots of extra hours to make a living are less likely to have the time and energy to sustain a satisfying sex life in the first place.

Wage equity is an important step toward gender equality, but also an important step toward equality for queer folk. But there are a lot of other steps that need to be taken as well.

One of the most important things I think we need to do is to de-emphasize marriage as the basic ‘family’ structure, and a focusing on households. Policies that took households, instead of marriages, into account would help single moms, cohabiting lovers, polyamorous people, communal households, same-sex couples, and would level the playing field dramatically. But that would mean lending tacit social approval to people who have sexual and intimate relationships that challenge the dominant heteronormative model wherein marriage rules.

This is why I have mixed feelings about the same-sex marriage agenda. As long as marriage is the only family form that is given privileges, of course I want people to have access to it regardless of the gender of their partners, but as long as we keep marriage at the center of our definition of “legal family,” we will have to continue to deny recognition and rights to all those people who choose other forms of intimate commitment and interdependence.

Economic justice and social justice need to be considered together. Economic issues are queer issues. The politics of sexuality and the economics of family life are inseparable when it comes to social change.

~~~~~~~~

Here are some links to a couple of organizations that frame economic justice issues as queer issues:

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Filed under community-building, culture, Family, feminism, Gender, inequality, marriage, News and politics, polyamory, Same-Sex Marriage, sexuality

The Lie at the Heart of Gonzales v. Carhart

(My source for the quotations and information is Justice Kennedy’s majority decision and Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in Gonzales v. Carhart. These documents can be found here.)

Tom Joaquin
The Free Lance

By now, most people are aware of the summary holding in Gonzales v. Carhart: for the first time since Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court left standing a law proscribing a particular abortion procedure without an exception to safeguard a woman’s health. Standing alone, this is a terrible result, but understanding the rationale of the decision was made is more frightening still.

In upholding the “Partial-Birth Abortion Act” (referred to here as just “the Act”), the Supreme Court’s new majority drew upon old lies about the emotional fragility of women, and the need to protect them from their own decisions. The Court used this old myth to bypass forty years of precedent safeguarding reproductive rights. The Court allowed Congress to place political values over best medical practice, and to put women’s lives at risk. The Court’s willingness to put aside legal precedent and scientific fact in this case may encourage more attacks on constitutional rights in the future.

Understanding Carhart requires some minimal understanding about abortion procedures. The Act targets the procedure used in essentially all abortions taking place after first trimester and before viability. (Viability is the point in pregnancy when, given the current state of medicine, a premature infant has a fifty percent chance of survival. At present, viability occurs around the 23rd week.) The procedure is referred to as “dilation and evacuation” or “D&E”. A D&E is performed by first dilating the patient’s cervix for a period from a few hours to a few days. The physician then removes the fetus, placenta and related material from the uterus through the cervix, and out of the body. Often, the fetus must be removed from the uterus in pieces. Sometimes, though, the fetus can be removed from the cervix intact (called an “intact D&E” by the Court). Because the fetus is not destroyed during the intact D&E process, the physician must ‘kill’ (the Court’s word), the non-viable fetus. The loaded term “partial-birth abortion” is thus an obvious mischaracterization of this procedure. The nonviable fetus cannot be “born,” either partially (whatever that might mean), or otherwise.

The Court notes that many physicians testify that trying to remove the fetus intact is sometimes medically necessary and always preferred medical practice. Removing fetal material in pieces take longer, thus extending the time the patient must stay under anesthesia. Many small pieces of material raise the risk of uterine damage, as well as the possibility of post-surgical complications resulting from failure to remove all of the material.

The line drawn separating intact D&E’s from all others appears to originate with Congress and the Court. In any case, Congress finds the “intact D&E” procedure distasteful. Well, perhaps more than just distasteful. According to the Court, Congress says the intact D&E is a “gruesome and inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited”.

Congress, however, cannot constitutionally pass a law with the primary goal of prohibiting an abortion procedure. As Justice Ginsberg points out in her excellent dissent, Congress must consider all that troublesome precedent about a woman’s right to choose, and the idea that a woman’s decision to bear a child is central to her “‘dignity and autonomy,’ her ‘personhood,’ ‘destiny,’ and her ‘conception of her place in society’”. According to over forty years of developed precedent, a law cannot constitutionally place “a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”

But there is a loophole: Congress can pass a law that makes it more “difficult and expensive to obtain an abortion,” as long the law’s primary purpose is not specifically to interfere with the right to have an abortion. For the Act to pass constitutional muster, Congress needs a convenient fiction about the Act’s purpose. Fortunately for Congress, the new majority in the Court is happy to oblige.

According to the Court, the Act is intended to protect “mothers,” who are emotionally sensitive and liable to regret their decision to have an abortion. There are no “women” in the Carhart decision. There are only ‘mothers, a group that includes women whose pregnancies were terminated.

The Court begins by adopting nostrums from Congress: “Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love a mother has for her child.” Because of the importance of this “bond of love,” the Court decides that, although there is “no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptional to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained. Severe depression and loss of self-esteem can follow.”

The Court then supposes, again without any factual support, that “some doctors may prefer not to disclose precise details of the means that will be used” for performing the abortion. The physician’s postulated failure to be frank about the procedure can compound already existing emotional difficulties: “It is self-evident that a mother who comes to regret her choice to abort must struggle with grief more anguished and sorrow more profound when she learns, only after the event, what she once did not know: that she allowed a doctor to pierce the skull and vacuum the fast-developing brain of her unborn child, a child assuming human form.”

This overheated language distracts from real problems with the Court’s argument. First, the story about the emotional damage that can result from having had an abortion just isn’t true. In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg provides a long list of studies from respected sources debunking the “idea that having an abortion is any more dangerous to a woman’s long-term mental health than delivering and parenting a child that she did not intend to have.”

Secondly, if a woman does come to regret her decision to terminate her pregnancy, is it likely she would prefer to learn her abortion was performed by removing the fetus from her uterus in pieces, or that it was removed intact, the safest possible method

Finally, wouldn’t it make more sense simply to require physicians to inform women of the abortion method to be used along with other information currently required by law to be provided the patient?

The Court doesn’t discuss these issues because the truth is less important than upholding the Act and setting the stage for future cases. The old argument about protecting the life of the unborn doesn’t need to be raised anymore to attack abortion. The new argument that abortion should be done away with is based upon the offensive lie: Women are emotionally fragile, and might decide on abortion, even though abortion separates them from participating in the “ultimate expression” of “respect for human life.” They may later come to regret that decision, leading to emotional illness. Learning about how the abortion was carried out will further damage these women emotionally. Therefore the practice must be eradicated.

This argument is sufficient to prohibit one method of performing abortions. Is there any reason why it won’t work to ban others?

 

This is the first of two posts discussing the Carhart case. In the next post, I’ll discuss the mechanics of the Act itself, how it allows Congressional opinion to overrule science, and the danger this poses to the health of women.

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Filed under abortion, activism, Advocacy, Info, and Activism, feminism, Gonzales v. Carhart, Health, inequality, News and politics, News..., pro-choice, public discourse, reproductive freedom

Mind the gap!

Today is Equal Pay Day according to an AFL-CIO email I just received. What they mean is that, on average, a woman needs to work a year and four months to earn what a man earns in one year. That means that it isn’t until sometime near the end of April that women catch up to what men earned the previous year.

While we all know households where a woman is the primary wage-earner, there is a persistent gap in the average earnings for men and women working full time, year-round. Forty-four years after the Equal Pay Act of 1963 mandated that men and women with equal experience and qualifications who do the same work be paid equally, women working full time, year-round make about 73 cents for every dollar men make. Or, put the other way around, men working full time, year-round, make 1.37 for every dollar women make.

To get a more specific sense of the inequality in different occupations, click here for the Bureau of Labor Statistics “Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers by detailed occupation and sex” Some interesting examples:

At the upper end of the economic spectrum:

  • The median CEO weekly salary is $1,907 for men and $1,422 for women, with men making $1.34 for every dollar women make (or, the other way around, women CEOs make about 75% of what men make)
  • Among lawyers, the median weekly salary for men is $1,891 and for women it is $1,333, so men make $1.42 for every dollar women make (or women make about 70% of what men make).

At the lower end:

  • Among cashiers, the median weekly income for men is $387 and for women it’s $327, so men make $1.20 for every dollar women make (or women make about 83% of what men make).
  • Among waitstaff the median weekly income for men is $401 and for women it’s $348, so men make $1.16 for every dollar women make (or women make about 86% of what men make).
  • Among housekeeping and janitorial staff the difference is about the same as for cashiers with income being only slightly higher.

The wage gap holds at the lower end of the economic spectrum as well as at the upper end but it’s worse at the upper end. And aside from the persistence of gender inequality in wages, it’s also important to be reminded of the startling income inequality between classes in the United States.

The AFL-CIO’s Union Voice campaign is asking people to contact their legislators to support two bills currently being considered in the U.S. Congress.

  • The Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 766 and H.R. 1338), which would provide more effective remedies for victims of wage discrimination on the basis of sex.
  • The Fair Pay Act (S. 1087), which would prohibit sex-based wage discrimination and would address the issue of comparable worth by calling for equal pay for equivalent work.

Please click through to support these bills. They are important bills. As the notice points out, given that the majority of households made up of a mother, a father and their children are households where both parents work, men and kids are hurt by the pay gap just as women are hurt by it. Pay inequality hurts men in opposite-sex partnerships because if their partners’ incomes are unfairly low, then the men themselves have to work more to make up the difference. This not only means more work, but also less time with family, and ultimately less time together.

Still, these bills alone won’t solve the problem. That’s because overt wage discrimination is not the only cause of the wage gap. The Fair Pay Act recognizes this by picking up on the issue of “equivalent work,” but even that fails to acknowledge some of the more persistent structural problems that underpin the wage gap.

Gender role socialization and the gender-typing of jobs probably have more to do with these structures than anything else.

For example, one important reason that men and women tend to have different salaries even when they are working full time doing the same jobs (take the waitstaff or the lawyers mentioned above) is that the men in those jobs may devote even more hours (in terms of overtime) than the women who work alongside them. Why? Often because it is women who take time away from the job to take care of children or aging parents. This gives men an edge in terms of earning seniority and promotions. This will not change based on the kinds of legislation being proposed. In fact, seniority is one of the reasons pay equity bills give for justifying differences in pay. So as long as women are more likely to take time off from work to take care of people, women as a group will tend to make less than men do.

There is another piece to that equation, too: Let’s say you are a woman, and you and your male partner both work full time. Let’s say you want to make decisions purely rationally, that is, without reference to gender roles, and you need to decide whose wages can be sacrificed for a while in order to tend to a child. Wouldn’t you choose the person with the lower wages? And that person would more likely to be you, the woman. The cycle is a hard one to break.

In addition, because of gender role socialization, men and women still don’t all do the same kinds of jobs. And within broad job categories they don’t choose the same specializations. Take teaching. High school teachers make more than kindergarten teachers. Kindergarten teachers (who make an average of $555 a week) are much more likely to be women than to be men. High school teachers are slightly more likely to be men than to be women and make an average of $950 if they’re men and $890 if they’re not. Among doctors, cardiologists are much more likely to be men than to be women. In the medical field in general, women are much more likely than men to be registered nurses. Cardiologists make a lot more than registered nurses, just like high school teachers make a lot more than kindergarten teachers.

Some part of that division, too, comes down to expectations about family roles. To be a cardiologist requires putting several years-worth of incredibly long hours of highly specialized training. This is a difficult thing to do if you want to have a family. But it is much more difficult if you are a woman and you want to have a family than it is if you are a man and you want to have a family. Why? Because generally, if you are a man and you want to have a family, you imagine that you will have a woman who will do much of the home/family support work. Men less often perform the kind of work/family calculus that women expect to have to perform.

What would it take for women not to be handicapped at work by the expectation (and their own desires) to be primary care givers? It would certainly take better organized and subsidized child care. It would take radical changes in the way that health care and care for the aging are managed.

What would it take for women to be better represented in jobs that are traditionally male jobs? Not much more, actually, than we’re already doing. Women are going into previously male-dominated professions at increasing rates.

The bigger question is this one: What will it take to get men into jobs that are predominantly “women’s” jobs — jobs like child care, nursing, home health care, and so on. Because if some women move out of these jobs and move up the ladder, so to speak, people will have to take their places. If those people are also women, we haven’t changed the balance at all.

And men, as human beings, are harmed by the social pressures that cause them to exclude themselves from jobs that would emphasize their capacities for love, compassion, and nurturing. Children are harmed, too, as they get less nurturing contact with the adult men in their lives.

What keeps men from these jobs? One thing is wages. They don’t generate enough income. Another is socialization. We imagine that taking care of children or cleaning up after people is “women’s work.”

And then, unfortunately, we devalue it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Other resources for pay equity action:

Coalition of Labor Union Women

National Committee on Pay Equity

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Filed under activism, culture, Family, feminism, Gender, inequality, life, News and politics, sexism

The Supreme Court thinks Congress knows more about women’s health than does the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

And: Why I continue to be grateful for the lessons I learn from my mother

My mother, from whom I learned so much about social justice, freedom of thought, women’s potential, and the need to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves, sent the following news release from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (The addition of bold and italic styles are mine, just for emphasis.)

ACOG NEWS RELEASE

For Release: April 18, 2007
Contact: ACOG Office of Communications
  (202) 484-3321
  communications@acog.org

ACOG Statement on the US Supreme Court Decision Upholding the
Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003

Washington, DCDespite the fact that the safety advantages of intact dilatation and evacuation (intact D&E) procedures are widely recognized—in medical texts, peer-reviewed studies, clinical practice, and in mainstream, medical care in the United States—the US Supreme Court today upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ (ACOG) amicus brief opposing the Ban, the Act will chill doctors from providing a wide range of procedures used to perform induced abortions or to treat cases of miscarriage and will gravely endanger the health of women in this country.

“Today’s decision to uphold the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 is shameful and incomprehensible to those of us who have dedicated our lives to caring for women,” said Douglas W. Laube, MD, MEd, ACOG president. “It leaves no doubt that women’s health in America is perceived as being of little consequence.

“We have seen a steady erosion of women’s reproductive rights in this country. The Supreme Court’s action today, though stunning, in many ways isn’t surprising given the current culture in which scientific knowledge frequently takes a back seat to subjective opinion,” he added.

This decision discounts and disregards the medical consensus that intact D&E is safest and offers significant benefits for women suffering from certain conditions that make the potential complications of non-intact D&E especially dangerous. Moreover, it diminishes the doctor-patient relationship by preventing physicians from using their clinical experience and judgment.

“On behalf of the 51,000 ACOG members who strive to provide the very best possible medical care to the women we serve, I can only hope that in the future, science will again be at the core of decision-making that affects the life and well-being of all of us,” said Dr. Laube.

# # #

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is the national medical organization representing over 51,000 members who provide health care for women.

~~~~~~

She sent this as part of a comment on a different post, and I asked her if I could reproduce some of that here. She agreed.

What I was most touched by in her comment was that she seemed to be identifying a concern that goes beyond this monumental decision and points to a problem with so much of our approach to social policy as a nation: we seem to be unable, as a country, to act compassionately. She fears that the rhetoric on both sides of this issue miss, sometimes, the concerns of people like her who feel pain at the thought of the loss of an aborted baby and who also feel pain at the fate of unwanted children who are born into situations over which they have no control.

Her comment points to problems that our abortion debates in the US so rarely touch on with the depth they require: that our economic system and political system are not oriented toward being supportive of working families. Our lack of universal health care, of living wages, and of inclusive, family-friendly workplace policies for example, put pregnant women under strains that they should not have to face and cause families to suffer financial hardship and the interpersonal stresses that come from that. Politicized health care policy keeps effective contraception out of the hands of people who need it most resulting in more unwanted pregnancies all while restricting women’s ability to deal with them.

We in the US have become well-socialized into a system that pits against each other groups that actually share many common interests, and does so in a way that a privileged few benefit while the rest of us fight each other. That so many feel so threatened makes it harder for us to feel compassion for one another. And without that compassion it is hard to imagine policies that can ease the conflicts. It is a truly dangerous cycle.

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Filed under abortion, activism, Advocacy, Info, and Activism, culture, Gender, Gonzales v. Carhart, Health, News and politics, pro-choice, public discourse, sex, sex and health

More on the Awfulness that is Gonzalez v. Carhart, the first successful nationwide banning of an abortion procedure

As if the outcome of the decision weren’t bad enough, there are aspects of the majority opinion that are especially offensive. For example:

The Act also recognizes that respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in a mother’s love for her child. Whether to have an abortion requires a difficult and painful moral decision, Casey, 505 U. S., at 852-853, which some women come to regret. In a decision so fraught with emotional consequence, some doctors may prefer not to disclose precise details of the abortion procedure to be used. It is, however, precisely this lack of information that is of legitimate concern to the State. Id., at 873. The State’s interest in respect for life is advanced by the dialogue that better informs the political and legal systems, the medical profession, expectant mothers, and society as a whole of the consequences that follow from a decision to elect a late-term abortion. The objection that the Act accomplishes little because the standard D&E is in some respects as brutal, if not more, than intact D&E, is unpersuasive. It was reasonable for Congress to think that partial-birth abortion, more than standard D&E, undermines the public’s perception of the doctor’s appropriate role during delivery, and perverts the birth process. Pp. 26-30.

Where to begin!

  • “The Act also recognizes that respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in a mother’s love for her child.” Oh really? Not in our love for one another? Not in our efforts to end human rights abuses or to demand social justice or equality? Specifically, the ultimate expression of respect for human life is the the love of mothers for their kids? This is a philosophy of human love and respect for life that is much more useful for controlling women’s sexuality than for protecting the dignity of full human life.
  • “In a decision so fraught with emotional consequence, some doctors may prefer not to disclose precise details of the abortion procedure to be used. It is, however, precisely this lack of information that is of legitimate concern to the State.” Congress thinks that it is protecting women from doctors who won’t tell them the whole truth about abortion procedures and thus might lead them into decision that they will regret later? Oh come on.
    • First of all, it’s true that women sometimes regret their decisions. But women also regret their choices to give birth. Lots of difficult life decisions and life circumstances lead to regrets. Therapy and good friends and appropriate care and a society that offers compassion instead of stigma can all help. And when it comes down to it, it seems less damaging to cope with the regret of having an abortion than the regret of having a child!
    • Second, it’s hard to imagine that there are lots of doctors out there lying to women so that they can do abortion procedures that the women might not like. A woman seeking a late-term abortion is not in a happy place, to be sure. Her doctors are likely trying to make her situation as tolerable as it can be. Doctors are not infallible by any means, but they are generally well intentioned.
    • Third, it is hard to credit Congress, at this point, with being the “full disclosure, complete information” people! Please! Especially when dealing with issues of life and death. Issues like, oh, say, war. Sure we’ll send your kids off to war without bothering to know or share complete information. But don’t let those doctors try to make a woman’s difficult situation any easier to handle.
  • “It was reasonable for Congress to think that partial-birth abortion, more than standard D&E, undermines the public’s perception of the doctor’s appropriate role during delivery, and perverts the birth process.” Congress thinks that it is acceptable to determine what procedures doctors can perform based not on the medical integrity of the procedure but based instead on the public’s perception of the procedure? Congress is afraid that if doctors perform abortions the public will lose faith in those doctor’ abilities to deliver babies?

Actually, there is a telling bit of text there: “undermines the public’s perception of the doctor’s appropriate role during delivery.” Are they afraid we’ll go back to a system of midwifry where women helped each other through birth and where the beginnings and endings of life were not quite so medicalized as they are today? Where experts and organizations had less control over our lives, and especially over women’s lives?And then there is the sentence that Feminist Law Profs call the scariest sentence in the decision:

The Act’s failure to allow the banned procedure’s use where ” ‘necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for preservation of the [mother’s] health,’ ” Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New Eng., 546 U. S. 320, 327-328, does not have the effect of imposing an unconstitutional burden on the abortion right.

The rationale? Because if the mother’s health was truly in jeopardy the doctor could inject the fetus with something that would kill it and then do a D&E instead of an “intact D&E” and the procedure would be legal because the extraction would be of a dead fetus and not a living fetus. This is about the most twisted logic I can imagine: It’s all about where you kill the fetus? It’s all about the public image of the procedure? (A public image that was very skillfully manipulated by anti-choice activists who framed the issue as “partial birth abortion,” in the first place.)

No, it isn’t really all about those things. It’s also really about beginning to chip away at access to abortion. Period. It’s really about forcing women to continue pregnancies that they do not want to or cannot continue and it is about continuing to exert as much control as possible over women’s lives.

Register your outrage!

Act out! Speak up! Plan rallies. Write about it. Leave comments here and on the other feminist and pro-choice blogs that are mobilizing. Support organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL and legislation like the Freedom of Choice Act. Support research by organizations like the Guttmacher Institute and SIECUS which both offer sane, rational, well-grounded information about sexuality and reproductive health.

It won’t stop here.

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Filed under abortion, activism, Family, feminism, Gender, Gonzales v. Carhart, Health, life, News and politics, pro-choice, public discourse, sex, sex and health, sex education

Shocking.

Today the US Supreme Court for the first time upheld a nationwide ban on an abortion procedure. The Court ruled on two challenges to the “Partial Birth Abortion Act” of 2003. One challenge was brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of physicians who provide abortions (Gonzalez v. Carhart) and the other was brought by Planned Parenthood Federation of America on behalf of it’s network of women’s health clinics.

Here is a link to the act and here is a link to today’s decision.

You might recall that back in 2000 the Supreme Court rejected a Nebraska ban on this same set of procedures (less dramatically and more medically accurately called “intact dilation and extraction”) because it failed to include an exemption in the case that the mother’s health was at risk.

The current ban also fails to provide such an exemption.

So, how could it be upheld by the same court that rejected Nebraska’s ban? There are two main differences. First, this is not the same court, really. With the retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor and the appointment of Samuel Alito, the balance on the court tipped toward the conservative on reproductive rights issues. Second, there is an interesting bit of legal-but-logic-defying procedural stuff that Tom Joaquin might be able to speak to better than I, but that goes something like this, as argued in the findings in Section 2 of the Act.

  1. In the Nebraska case, (Stenberg v. Carhart, 2000) it was a Federal district court that first found that the law in question placed too great a burden on women because of it’s failure to allow the procedure to protect a woman’s health. In reaching that decision, the Federal district court in that case found there to be significant medical evidence to support the claim that this procedure is sometimes necessary to protect a woman’s health. On appeal, the 8th Circuit court found that the findings on which the district court based its decision were not “clearly erroneous” even though many anti-abortion activists claim that the procedure is never medically necessary and is sometimes even harmful to a woman’s health. The US Supreme Court agreed that the lower court’s findings, while in dispute, were not “clearly erroneous.”
  2. Congress, on the other hand, is apparently not bound by those findings. So, in the push to pass the “Partial Birth Abortion Act of 2003,” Congress held lots of hearings at which enough people said “this procedure is gruesome and is never medically necessary and even sometimes harms women,” that Congress indeed found that the procedure “is a gruesome and inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited,” and it passed the ban.
  3. So, in this set of cases, the Supreme Court was presented with a new set of findings, these by the US Congress, that the procedure is never necessary to protect a woman’s health and so, voila, they allowed the ban to stand even though it failed to include an exemption for the health of the woman.

Shocking. Congress is authorized to determine what is medically necessary. Congress is authorized to determine what is medically accurate. A body that is at its core a political body and not a scientific body — this group gets to decide, according to the Supreme Court, what procedures are appropriate for safeguarding a woman’s health. Mind you, we are not talking about Congress deciding what procedures to offer fund with public health money. No, we are talking about Congress deciding what procedures your doctors are allowed to perform. And the penalty for performing a prohibited abortion? A fine and or up to two years in prison. Two years in prison for performing a procedure that many doctors and pregnant women find medically necessary in order to preserve the woman’s health.

Shocking. The law also contains a provision for civil suits to be brought against doctors who provide the banned procecures. Under section 1531 (c)(1):

The father, if married to the mother at the time she receives a partial-birth abortion procedure, and if the mother has not attained the age of 18 years at the time of the abortion, the maternal grandparents of the fetus, may in a civil action obtain appropriate relief, unless the pregnancy resulted from the plaintiff’s criminal conduct or the plaintiff consented to the abortion.

Look at the continued privileging of husbands in marriage (though notably not fathers in general). If married to the mother of the fetus, the father can bring a civil suit. There are two problems here: the first is that it asserts that husbands are harmed when their wives attend to their own medical care and, with their doctors, choose procedures with which the husbands disagree. Second, it privileges husbands over all other kinds of partners.

This is all the more frightening in light of other recent findings — findings that abstinance-only sex ed, for example, doesn’t work, even though Congress and the President continue to authorize money for advancing abstinance-only approaches. (Click here for the study — a 10 year examination of these programs.) Are we moving into an era where young people have less access to medically accurate information about pregnancy and disease and at the same time fewer outlets for dealing with unwanted pregancies?

This is an opportune moment to ask you to act: The REAL (Real Education About Life, S.972/H.R.1653) Act is again before Congress. It is being cosponsored by Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Christopher Shays (R-CT). It was first introduced back in 2005. We need it NOW. Senator Lautenberg’s web site calls it “a bill that would authorize federal funds for states to offer comprehensive and medically accurate sexual education in their schools” and notes that

“there are three separate federal programs that fund abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, but no federal funding currently exists specifically for comprehensive sexuality education. Currently, states can only receive funding if they agree to teach abstinence-only-until-marriage while excluding information about the health benefits of contraception to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.”

Please support the REAL Act and demand that the government specifically fund comprehensive sex education.

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Filed under abortion, activism, Education, Family, feminism, Gender, Gonzales v. Carhart, Health, life, News and politics, pro-choice, public discourse, reproductive freedom, sex, sex education

Meanwhile in The New Yorker

This week’s New Yorker contains a cartoon showing a man looking at Internet porn as a way of celebrating the online filing of his income taxes. The drawing includes a computer monitor with a naked woman on all fours looking behind her as if for the partner who is standing just off the screen. It’s a pretty explicit drawing, and the caption makes it as clear as it needs to be. And this is not exceptionally racy for The New Yorker, in that naked women, and couples in bed seem to be staples of New Yorker cartoonists, but it is interesting that this one actually depicts pornography itself. And I think it raises some interesting questions.

When it comes to all things sexual-thus-potentially-dangerous-to-unsuspecting-readers-or-children, is it the things in themselves that are presumed to the be danger, or is it the representations of the things? In other words, is it the woman having sex for money and an audience, or is it the representation of the woman having sex for money and an audience that is understood to be the danger?

Because if it is the thing itself, then one would imagine that any representation that does not condemn the dangerous thing, or warn against it, would be equally harmful.

And if it is the representation that we claim is harmful, how important is the context to deciding whether or not harm is likely? For example, if the New Yorker cartoon was not in The New Yorker but was instead in Playboy, would it be seen as more harmful for being located in a context that is more overtly sexual? (I can’t tell you how many cartoons in The New Yorker include naked people, especially women, and especially showing their nipples, these days.) Does being in The New Yorker make the cartoon safer, or does the cartoon make The New Yorker potentially more dangerous? Certainly The New Yorker hangs out in many doctors office waiting rooms and other places where children could accidentally see the cartoon. And then, too, there it is right online, where any unsuspecting child could happen upon it.

I don’t raise this because I want to see The New Yorker begin to censor its cartoonists. Far from it! I want to see less censorship around all things sexual. I raise it only to point out that when it comes to portraying sex in the mainstream media — or media in general — there is a system of privilege. And as with so many systems of privilege, I think this one needs to be examined and, perhaps, dismantled.

I wonder what the Terms of Service of The New Yorker’s ISP say about nudity and sexually explicit content!

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Filed under Art, censorship, culture, feminism, moral panic, public discourse, sex, sex and the media

You have the right to speak freely (in an increasingly limited number of spaces)

Whose Terms of Service control your access to the increasingly private “public spaces” where you express yourself?

Chris Hall of Literate Perversions recently made a very cogent comment on my post, “My Way or the Highway’s Way.” He was pointing out how much of the limiting of “acceptable use” of public spaces involves a shift from citizen to consumer as the model for the individual. When we think of ourselves as citizens, we are thinking of ourselves as members of a community and as having collective rights, responsibilities and needs that we must act together in order to protect. When we think of ourselves as consumers — or when governments and corporations frame us as consumers — suddenly our rights, responsibilities and needs are framed in individual terms. “I” need something, “I” don’t want to pay for something, “I” am offended and don’t think certain messages should be transmitted. I come first (or my family comes first) and I am not so encouraged to think of myself and my family as part of an extended network of people whose needs all need to be negotiated somehow.

That got me thinking about how much our “public” spaces have been privatized. The New York State Thruway’s rest areas are not really public spaces in the traditional sense. Really they are a collection of private businesses that team up to provide a public service. The mall has become the new town square. And no, I don’t mean “mall” in the sense of “wide avenue or grassy space where people walk, gather and discuss the events of the day.” I mean “neon lit enclosed commercial space where people walk, gather and discuss the issues of the day so long as they don’t offend the owners of the space.”

And then I started thinking about the Internet and got very optimistic and then very depressed. The Internet and the World Wide Web, are incredible tools for creating powerful, decentralized, democratic spaces where free exchange of ideas is managed across nations and continents, not just across towns and neighborhoods. But who controls our access to the Internet so that we can make our spaces on the World Wide Web available to others? It was in answering that question that I got depressed.

For me, the first “who” is Verizon and when I looked at their Terms of Service I was very disappointed. (To spare my regular readers I will not revisit my WordPress.com TOS discussion in this post.) Verizon, the vehicle I use to connect to the internet, not only prohibits my using their service for illegal purposes like, say downloading or distributing child pornography, but also prohibits using their service in a way that is “sexually explicit, or graphic in nature.” They can immediately terminate my service at their sole discretion if I am found to be in violation of their policies. There are things I like about Verizon. For one, many of its workers belong to unions. But I looked at their terms of service and realized that I could be regularly in violation of it and that they could, should they choose, terminate my access to the Internet.

That’s my ISP. But let’s say I find an ISP that won’t consider what I do to be a violation of their Terms of Service. I still need a place to host a web site. Powweb, a hosting company recommended to me by a friend who has used them for years, prohibits material that would commonly be considered indecent, or would appeal to the prurient interest, and would also prevent me from linking to sites that do those things. Open Source Host, another company recommended to me by a friend who has been happy with their service for a long time also prohibits “sex-related links” including sites that “infer sexual content.” Not only could I not post such content myself, but I could not even link to it. And again, the company will be the sole arbiter of what counts as “sex-related.” I did find some hosting services that did not expressly prohibit sexually explicit content. AN Hosting and DreamHost, both recommended by WordPress.org, only prohibited sexual content that was illegal — i.e., child pornography. Another open source host, Laughing Squid, actually took the time to distinguish between “erotic photography” sites and “porn membership” sites, and explained that they don’t host the latter because of traffic issues. But the breadth of the prohibitions made by companies like Verizon, Powweb and OpenSource was startling. And there were others. Yahoo! Hosting prohibits material that “(ii) is threatening, obscene, indecent, defamatory, or that otherwise could adversely affect any individual, group, or entity (collectively, ‘Persons’)” and later excludes material that is vulgar or obscene. BlueHost, a company recommended by WordPress.org prohibits “pornography, nudity, sexual products, programs or services. Escort services are not allowed or other content deemed adult related.” All policies make it clear that the company itself is the “sole arbiter” of what violates its policies. (And of course these sites all separately prohibit expressly illegal behavior.)

Is this insane? No nudity? Nothing that could “adversely affect any individual”? And with these companies being the sole arbiters of what might be harmful, enforcing their policies at their “sole discretion”? How many of us are in regular violation of the terms of service of the major corporations — or small businesses — that control our access to this otherwise democratic world wide web?

I am convinced that, sexually speaking, we are about as schizophrenic as we can be. Yesterday I talked with my sister in Atlanta who told me that when she got up in the morning morning and turned on the television the news was reporting the story of a veterinarian in Japan who had had his arm bitten off by a crocodile (the event happened on April 11th). This was on a mainstream media channel on a large screen television. They showed the crocodile with the man’s arm in its mouth. Before breakfast. This is not going to be disturbing to children? The same channel also showed graphic coverage of the man who jumped from the Empire State Building yesterday. Not disturbing for children? But let a glimpse of Janet Jackson’s nipple escape onto the airwaves again — a nipple being something that lots of children are intimately familiar with and probably have happy memories of — and no doubt we will have another cultural panic about how disturbing that must be for kids. Severed limbs, okay. Healthy bodies, not so much.

Is there a cure for a schizophrenic society? I think there is, and I think we are part of it. We need to be inserting sensible, playful, compassionate, honest, difficult, and open discussions of sexuality (and bodies) into absolutely every cultural venue we can manage.

Of course in order to do that we may need to violate the policies of the companies that control our access to those “public” spaces.

Extra credit: Who controls your access to free expression online? Read the Terms of Service documents for the companies that control your Internet access or hosting. If you find that they are sensible and don’t exclude legal expression, drop a note in the Comments section below. I’d love to compile a list!

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Filed under activism, censorship, culture, moral panic, public discourse, sex, sex and the media