Category Archives: Advocacy, Info, and Activism

Where have I been and where am I going?

I just noticed it’s been one month since my last post here. It has never happened before that a whole month has elapsed between posts. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing in the past month. I haven’t been writing much, it’s true, but if you check out Sex In The Public Square dot Org you’ll see that there’s been a lot more activity there than here. Please consider switching your readers, links, or favorites over to http://sexinthepublicsquare.org because that site is updated much more frequently. If you’re really really attached to my blogging, you can link to http://sexinthepublicsquare.org/ElizabethsBlog if you want the page that has only my writing on it. (Please explore the whole site, though. It’s much more interesting than anything I could put together on my own.)

Where else have I been? I finished my first semester back in the classroom (what an adjustment!), spent two separate weekends at union conferences (union work being another of my passions), and just got back from a trip to Georgia to see family.

Where am I going? Next semester is going to be a busy one! I’ll be speaking at:

Eastern Sociological Society annual meeting in New York City (Feb. 23rd)

South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, TX (Mar. 8)

Sex 2.0 in Atlanta (April 12)

At SXSW I’ll be leading a conversation with Lux Nightmare about using “web 2.0” technology to help deconstruct what she has called the “pink ghetto” and others have called “NSFW” — the stigmatization of sexual content whether it be educational or entertaining in nature, and the further stigmatizing of those who produce it. At ESS and Sex 2.0 I’ll be speaking about the important project of creating a “sex commons,” a project well underway. The “sex commons” is an space where independent information about sex, sexuality, sexual health, and communities can be collected, updated and archived. You can see by blogs alone that this sex commons is growing. I’ll be talking about the challenges of maintaining such a commons and safeguarding the quality of the information it contains.

I’m excited about all of these conferences, but I’m especially excited about Sex 2.0 because it is an independent grass-roots conference of people interested in the intersection of sexuality, feminism and social media, and it is being organized by the unstoppable Amber Rhea. Some of my favorite sex-and-society writers and podcasters will be there. Audacia Ray of Waking Vixen, Naked on the Internet, and The Bi Apple, Viviane of The Sex Carnival, Rachel Kramer Bussel, erotica editor extraordinaire and excellent writer of fiction and nonfiction, Ren of Renegade Evolution, Melissa Gira of Bound, not Gagged, Sexerati and The Future of Sex, Minx of Polyamory Weekly, and lots of other amazing folks will be there, and will be talking to each other face-to-face.

Sex 2.0Because it is an independent grass-roots conference, though, it could use some grassroots support. If you have a couple of dollars to donate via PayPal I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so. (I did!) It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s secure, and you can donate as much or as little as you like. Even a couple dollars helps. To support Sex 2.0 click here to go to the conference’s home page and click the “Help make it happen” button on the upper right hand side of the page.

Why does it matter? Because those of us who are dedicated to working on the construction of what I call the sex commons (independent space containing info on sexuality of all sorts) rarely get to meet each other face to face and work on the issues we all care about together. Amber’s insight in bringing us to Atlanta is sharp. She understands that the work we do online is important and that we need moments together in person to push that work forward. You can help defray the cost of renting the space where we’ll meet, and providing modest travel scholarships to those who would otherwise not be able to attend.

To find out more you can go to the Sex 2.0 Google Group, Facebook page, MySpace page, or to its pages in Eventful or Upcoming.

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Filed under Advocacy, Info, and Activism, community-building, feminism, pink ghetto, public discourse, sex, Sex 2.0, sex work, sexuality, technology, Travel

The New Anti-Abortion Law — Bad News For Women’s Health and Doctor’s Ethics

In an earlier post I discussed the Supreme Court’s analysis of the so-called Partial Birth Abortion Act, concluding that the Court’s decision to uphold the Act was intellectually dishonest and inequitable. This post is about the purposes of the Act, as described by Congress, and the Act’s probable consequences for the practice of medicine and the health of women.

Understanding the Act requires some minimal understanding about abortion procedures. (This explanation is more or less lifted directly from my earlier post on the Carhart decision.) 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 word used in the Act), 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 Act makes it a crime for a physician to knowingly perform an abortion using the following procedure:

1. The physician removes the intact fetus from the woman’s body to a particular point:

In a head-first position, to the point where the entire head is outside the woman’s body;

in a breech (foot-first) position, where any portion of the fetus past the navel is outside the woman’s body; and,

2. The physician then takes an overt act that kills the fetus.

(This is my summary of the Act. The full Act can be found here.)

The Act provides no exception to preserve the health of the woman undergoing the procedure.

The Act won’t stop a single abortion from taking place. Justice Ginsburg noted during oral argument, “[W]e’re not talking about whether any fetus will be preserved by this legislation… It doesn’t preserve any fetus because you just [terminate fetal life] inside the womb instead of outside.” The US attorney defending the Act agreed with Justice Ginsburg. In other words, in order to be compliant with the Act, a physician must terminate the fetus’ life prior to delivery, even in cases where the physician believes it is safer for the mother to do otherwise.

Whether an intact D&E’ is considered medically necessary depends on a number of factors, including the age and health of the woman, especially if the woman has an underlying medical problem; the condition of the fetus; and the sophistication of the medical facilities available. Under the Act, a doctor is no longer allowed to make this decision. With the Act, Congress has overruled the the physician’s medical judgment, as well as her ethical obligation to provide the best possible medical care. Is appears the Hippocratic Oath has joined the Geneva Conventions as “quaint” obligations our government has decided can be ignored.

The trade-off Congress made in the Act and the Supreme Court appears hardly rational: Physicians must choose between following the law, on one hand, or providing the best possible care to preserve the health of the mother. What exactly has Congress achieved in return? Nothing, it seems. Abortions will not be reduced. But the Act will make abortions more dangerous and more difficult to obtain. Some physicians will likely withdraw from the practice of performing intact D&E’s rather than risk criminal charges. The health of some women will be harmed as a result, because they will not be able to obtain the best possible care. And, perhaps most troubling, those seeking to limit reproductive rights have established that their political agenda can override concerns about privacy, personal autonomy, and women’s health.

Tom Joaquin

TheFreeLance Continue reading

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

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

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

Holiday Generosity?

I know you didn’t ask, but, if you should happen to be looking for a couple of sex-positive causes to support with your year-end or holiday giving, may I suggest two that are currently experiencing pretty urgent needs?

Audacia Ray writes that $pread Magazine is weathering a crisis and needs an infusion of cash to get out their next issue. $pread is a fantastic magazine that gives sex workers a way to share information, tell their stories, advocate for themselves, share resources and, of course, educate the rest of us. You can reach their donations page here.

And just this morning I read that donations to Scarleteen are down. This is especially sad because Scarleteen is one of the best online sources of sexuality information for teens, and does lots of incredibly good work. They not only help teens with accurate and understandable information, but they also help teens build positive body image, negotiate relationships, and make smart decisions. You can reach their donations page here.

And of course there is the Center for Sex and Culture, one of my favorite organizations. It’s run by the incredible Drs. Carol Queen and Robert Lawrence and in addition to all its direct education through workshops and readings and the like, it contains an unparalleled library of sex-related materials — pornography, dissertations, ‘zines, comics, educational materials, and more — that spans decades. The CSC is in the middle of a move from one location to another, and could very much use some help. You can visit their donations page here.

Happy holidays,

Elizabeth

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The Alternatives to Marriage Project and Supporting Family Diversity

I just read a post at Pandagon that was in reaction to an article in USA Today. The article spotlights the Bush Administration’s “abstinence only” programs and the ways that they are now targeting not just kids but unmarried adults. You can read the post at Pandagon here and the USA Today article here. The outrageousness of directing “abstinence only” money and energy at unmarried adults is not what I want to focus on here.

What I want to focus on here is the work of an organization I learned about because of reading the USA Today article. That organization is called the Alternatives to Marriage Project, and its mission statement reads:

The Alternatives to Marriage Project (AtMP) advocates for equality and fairness for unmarried people, including people who are single, choose not to marry, cannot marry, or live together before marriage. We provide support and information for this fast-growing constituency, fight discrimination on the basis of marital status, and educate the public and policymakers about relevant social and economic issues. We believe that marriage is only one of many acceptable family forms, and that society should recognize and support healthy relationships in all their diversity. AtMP is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

I support this project because I believe it is unjust that our society reserve respects and rights for only one family arrangement: the heterosexual married couple. It is unjust that the social contract between individuals and the state is strongest for those who accept opposite-sex marriage as the framework around which to organize their lives.

Click here to sign on to the Alternatives to Marriage Project’s “Affirmation of Family Diversity,” which reads:

We believe that all families should be valued, that the well-being of children is critical to our nation’s future, and that people who care for one another should be supported in their efforts to build healthy, happy relationships. One of America’s strengths is its diversity, which includes not only a wide range of races, ethnicities, creeds, abilities, genders, and sexual orientations, but also a range of family forms. One family form is marriage, and we agree with the newly-formed “Marriage Movement” that marriages should be supported. What worries us is the mistaken notion that marriage is the only acceptable relationship or family structure.

More than one in three American adults is currently unmarried. Policies that benefit only married relationships routinely exclude this considerable percentage of ordinary people, whose lives and families do not fit the married ideal upheld by the marriage movement.

The family diversity that exists in America today includes people who have chosen not to marry and those who are prevented from marrying, such as same-sex couples. It includes people who have chosen to live together before marriage (the majority of marriages today are preceded by cohabitation) and those who are single. It includes older people and disabled people, who may risk losing needed benefits if they get married. And it includes children, half of whom live in a family structure other than their two married parents.

We believe it is essential to recognize, embrace, and support the family diversity that exists today. Stigmatizing people who are divorced, punishing single parents, casting stepfamilies as less-than-perfect, shaming unmarried couples, and ignoring the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are not positive approaches for supporting families. Many opponents of diverse families misrepresent and oversimplify both the history and research on which they base their claims. The picture that is painted by these opponents is bleak. In reality, however, there are millions of happy, healthy unmarried families. The challenge is to find effective approaches to supporting these successful families, as well as the ones who are having difficult times.

We believe:

  • that discrimination on the basis of marital status should be prohibited
  • that policies designed to help children should focus on supporting all the types of families in which children live
  • that laws and policies should be changed to allow for the full range of families to be recognized (this includes domestic partner benefits, family and medical leave, hospital visitation, and survivors’ benefits)
  • that more research is needed on unmarried relationships and families, so that we can address their needs directly
  • that same-sex couples should be able to choose marriage as an option
  • that there is much we can learn from the countries around the world that have already taken steps to recognize diverse families
  • that the challenge that lies before us as a nation is how to support ALL relationships and families, not just married ones.

Let us not forget how many people were oppressed, humiliated, and stigmatized during historical eras in which it was considered unacceptable to be single, divorced, or gay. We celebrate the strides we have taken in recent decades towards making the world more supportive of the vibrant diversity of families that exist. We support principles that work toward creating happy, healthy, loving relationships and families for all people, married and unmarried.

And while you’re there, check out their resources on polyamory, cohabitation, living single, domestic partnership, and other topics of interest to those who don’t, or can’t, marry.

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Filed under Advocacy, Info, and Activism, Family, News and politics, public discourse, sex

2006 Masturbate-a-Thon

Speaking of the goddess, Carol Queen, I encourage you to check out these links:

This one begins her narration of the recent Center for Sex and Culture-sponsored Maturbate-a-Thon held this year for the first time in the UK. Very exciting!

This link will take you to the Center for Sex and Culture itself. It was founded by Carol Queen and her amazingly kind, generous, not-to-mention brilliant partner Robert Lawrence and it’s a fantastic institution.

Carol, Robert, you rock!

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