The Changing Abortion Conversation in Latin America and the Caribbean

Sasha Young, LSRJ Summer Intern (’16, Northwestern School of Law)

I recently saw a film that caught me by surprise, “La Espera” (released in the States as images“Expecting”) by Chilean filmmaker Francisca Fuenzalida. The film is devoted to one night, when Natalia and Rodrigo, a teenage couple from Santiago, self-induce an abortion with Misoprostol. The film was released in 2011 to critical praise for great filmmaking and the courage to tackle the subject of abortion in a country with one of the strictest abortion bans in the world.

Earlier this year I traveled to Chile, the skinny country that lines the western coast of South America, with a bit of angst over what I would find. I wondered what a country that in the last 50 years had a socialist president, a revolution, and a dictator [who, despite his human rights violations, brought incredible economic development and one of the most oppressive abortion laws in the world] would actually look like. I’d heard stories from friends about their own botched Misoprostol abortions, and I’d read about little Belén, the 11-year-old girl who was raped by her mother’s partner and then praised by the former president for deciding to continue her pregnancy. What I found was a country where, although it’s not uncommon to see hormonal teens passionately rolling around the manicured lawns of el Cerro Santa Lucía or see street art cursing the bourgeoisie, the conversation about abortion is hard to find.

I worked in an abortion clinic in Bogotá, lived beside an abortion clinic in Mexico City, and marched to stop restrictions on reproductive rights in Atlanta. I’m from a little island where abortion is still illegal, but even there in Aruba, the conversation of abortion happens. So I was really excited a few weeks ago to hear a debate happening around new Chilean president Michelle Bachelet’s plans to introduce therapeutic abortion exceptions to Chile’s abortion law later this year. The controversial president is a physician by profession, a single mother of three children, and possibly made of steel considering the political risk she’s taking with this new initiative. Abortion is a controversial topic, but in a region with one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, where bad abortions are the leading killer of young women, and where criminal penalties for abortion disproportionately affect poor women, we have to at least have a conversation about what reproductive justice in our region looks like.  The winds are changing throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and having an open and honest conversation is the first step to achieving equal access to tools that help us decide when, how, why, and if we want to parent.

 

Reproductive Oppression Comes at a Cost, Literally

Grace Ramsay, LSRJ Summer Reproductive Rights Activist Service Corps (RRASC) Intern (’16, Smith College)

In 2010, I needed emergency contraception.  Asking my moms (yes, moms) for help was out of the question. So, I waited in the CVS parking lot while my 18 year old friend bought it for me because I was sixteen and Plan B was not yet over the counter. If my friend had said no, if I couldn’t afford the $50 upfront charge, or if I lived in a different state, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have gotten the morning after pill at all.

Contraception access should not depend on your age, your provider or pharmacist’s religious beliefs, or the employer you work for. Naturally, I was dismayed to see the Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to refuse birth control coverage on religious grounds.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg  reminds us that reproductive oppression comes at a cost, literally: “It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.” 

My snarky feminist side can’t help but wonder, (as so many have already lamented,) how come Hobby Lobby still covers vasectomies and Viagra? And why are condoms are available at practically any store, to any age, but it took until last year to have OTC emergency contraception? Can it be as simple and paternalistic as men not wanting women to have control over their personal reproductive decisions? I’m trying to remain hopeful that the outpouring of negative response to the Hobby Lobby decision will translate into renewed activism for reproductive justice.  In the meantime, I have to keep remembering that progress does not move in a linear direction and we have to keep up the good fight.

It’s the World Cup Again! Time to think about RJ.

Gavin Barney, LSRJ Summer Intern (’16, University of California, Berkeley School of Law)

I adore the World Cup.  I try my very best to spare my friends and loved ones, but I could happily talk all their ears off about the tournament all day without it ever getting old. And the fact that this year’s games are taking place in Brazil – the spiritual home of futebol – has made it all the more exciting.

However, given the ludicrous scale of this kind of global sporting event, some of the most important, fascinating, moving, and upsetting stories have taken place outside the newly built stadiums and team base camps. For example, with the collective eyes of the world trained on Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in the months preceding the games, Brazilian citizens spilled into the streets to protest their government’s allocation of massive funds to stadium building at the expense of transportation, education, healthcare, and other vital services. Events like the World Cup or the Olympics give people around the world a unique opportunity to learn about the internal issues of the host nation because mainstream news outlets give the country more in-depth coverage than they ever would otherwise.

You might be wondering, well what does the World Cup have to do with RJ? Well, several articles have been cropping up about the effects the World Cup has had on sex work in host cities around Brazil. The tone and content of articles have varied widely, and while the influx of tourists and media has created an environment of heightened exploitation, it has also given some Brazilian sex workers an opportunity to be heard on a world stage.

Sex work is legal in Brazil, so long as the worker is over the age of eighteen, but according to the Huffington Post, the World Cup is expected to cause a marked increase in child prostitution in areas near the stadiums. The HuffPo article points out that this type of phenomenon is all too common and cites an expert writing on human trafficking at this year’s Super Bowl who wrote that events that attract huge numbers of (male) fans “could never not be breeding grounds for sexual exploitation.” Apparently, the last two World Cups also saw increases in child exploitation as high as 30-40%, and this year’s tournament will once again juxtapose the vibrant celebration of the games with the tragic reality of human trafficking. As advocates for reproductive justice –or any kind of social justice for that matter – this type of pattern is unacceptable, and the notion that it is just the-way-these-things-are needs to be strongly countered.

Elsewhere, in an altogether different kind of story, RT.com reported on a public pick-up style game of soccer played between professional (adult) sex workers and a group of American Christians on a street in Belo Horizonte. The “naked match” was organized by the Prostitutes’ Association of Minas Gerais to draw attention to sex workers’ rights and to protest prejudice and stigma. Above all else, these members of the “naked Brazilian forces” called for their profession to be treated like any other legal job. In addition to providing a refreshing take on the dignity of sex work, this event has produced some of the most striking images I have seen during the World Cup. I highly recommend that you take the time to look through them.

Ultimately, I’m not entirely sure what to take from these stories or how they should color my enjoyment of the actual soccer matches. Just as the World Cup itself is complex – simultaneously a bloated and exploitative celebration of excess and an event of pure joy – this small sample size of media coverage speaks to many more complicated issues than these journalists have the time or inclination to fully flesh out. But in the end, I suppose it is just more proof that there are very few things in this world that don’t lend themselves to some thoughts on reproductive justice.

Anti-shackling Laws and Fetal Rights – Finding the Common Ground

Deodonne Bhattarai, Resident Blogger (’12, Northeastern University School of Law)

The “Birthing Justice” panel at the recent Civil Liberties and Public Policy Conference at Hampshire College celebrated Massachusetts’ recent success in passing an anti-shackling bill.  It also highlighted the dangers inherent in treating pregnant people differently from non-pregnant people. These two issues, at first seemingly at odds with each other, point to an important lesson for those pursuing the protection of pregnant people forced to give birth while in state or federal custody – as important as anti-shacking laws are, it is crucial that they be drafted using language that empowers the pregnant woman rather than in a way that protects the unborn fetus.

Fetal separateness laws ultimately convey legal rights upon the fetus, often from the moment of conception. As Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director and founder of National Advocates for Pregnant Women has explained, there is no way to grant rights to an egg, embryo, or fetus without diminishing the rights of the pregnant person. Over the last three decades, hundreds of women have been charged with crimes due to pregnancy related conduct and we have seen the application of existing criminal and civil child protection laws upon pregnant women in unprecedented ways.

For example, pregnant women who test positive for drugs have been charged with assault with a deadly weapon – the deadly weapon in these cases is the drug and the assault is the in-utero transmission of that drug from the woman to her fetus. Pregnant women have also been charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, unlawful child neglect, and child endangerment. Even women participating in government sponsored methadone programs have had their newborns taken away due to in-utero “abuse” when the baby tested positive for the drug. Certain conduct including attempted suicide as well as being HIV positive, has subjected pregnant women to charges of murder, feticide, and sentencing enhancement triggers. Late last month, Tennessee passed the nation’s furthest reaching law, a law that subjects any woman struggling with drug addiction to criminal prosecution based upon her pregnancy outcome.

The creative application of laws upon pregnant people is not only destructive to maintaining family unity but is also counterproductive in assisting with any mental health issues or drug addictions the pregnant person might have.  As Paltrow explained in a recent interview with NPR, “The biggest threats to life, born and unborn, do not come from mothers. They come from poverty, barriers to health care, persistent racism, environmental hazards and prosecutions like these that will frighten women away from getting help from the problems they do have.”

The shackling of pregnant, laboring, and post-natal inmates has been outlawed in eighteen states. When asked about Massachusetts’ pending legislation, Megan Amundson, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts stated, “Shackling pregnant women is unsafe and inhumane, and it is shocking that this barbaric practice continues today.”  As prisoners rights advocates understand, shackling any human, pregnant or not, is inhumane and barbaric but while we wait for greater criminal justice reforms, we must remain vigilant.  As anti-shacking legislation continues to gain momentum, it is incumbent upon reproductive justice advocates to ensure that such laws are constructed carefully so as to protect women’s rights while avoiding language that would strengthen fetal separateness jurisprudence. For not only do fetal rights laws potentially curtail abortion rights by establishing dangerous precedent but they also create a maternal-fetal conflict by pitting the woman’s autonomy, right to privacy, and right to bodily integrity against those of her fetus.

Trans Sex Workers and Reproductive Justice

Candace Gibson, Resident Blogger (’12, University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law)

The reproductive justice and LGBTQ liberation movements share the values of bodily autonomy and sexual liberation and believe that all persons should have the resources they need to form the families they want.  However, many of these desires, including bodily autonomy, are often denied to trans persons, especially trans sex workers, many of whom are trans women of color. At a recent conference that I attended, Cyndee Clay, Executive Director of HIPS, painfully articulated the experiences of trans sex workers and their attempts to survive in our economy.  She had mentioned how trans sex workers not only faced violence from their clients but also from the police as they were arrested, how police officers often sexually harassed these individuals. In 2013, a D.C. police officer shot three transgender women in a car after one of the transwomen refused to provide sex for money.  Clay also discussed how often young trans persons were forced onto the streets because their families rejected who they were and that trans persons are excluded and erased from larger conversations on anti-trafficking efforts, unfortunately nothing new to many of us in different movements.

Clay’s comments remind me that we still live in a society hung up with gender, body parts, and the selling of sex.  Unfortunately, through our regulation and, in this case, criminalization of sexual desire for sale, we often harm and kill the most vulnerable without providing critical solutions and resources for those who are merely trying to survive.  Survival should not be the standard for some-we should all have the resources we need to thrive as persons and as members of our community.

Maybe, it’s time for the broader reproductive justice community to center the voices of sex workers, especially trans sex workers, in our conversations.  It may be hard at first but we have never shied away from a challenge.  

Parentage Laws and Reproductive Justice

S J Chapman, Resident Blogger, (’12, Northwestern University Law School)

Gay marriage is an issue in which LGBTQ justice and reproductive justice go hand-in-hand. Illinois provides a concrete example.  Illinois’ landmark gay marriage law goes into effect this June. But its parentage law is lagging behind and unless it’s changed, it will impede reproductive justice for same-sex spouses.

Like most states, Illinois has a “presumed father” law, under which a child born during a marriage is presumed to be the husband’s legal child, even if it’s not biologically his. The legal parent-child relationship has important consequences in areas like guardianship and inheritance. If one spouse dies, the other spouse has automatic guardianship over a legal child. Or, if a spouse dies intestate, half their property goes to their spouse and half to their legal children.

Take, for example, a different-sex married Illinois couple — we’ll call them Bob and Heather — whose child was conceived through an alternative reproductive therapy, and where biologically, Bob isn’t the father.  Bob is, however, the legal parent when the child is born.  If anything happens to Heather, Bob will have automatic guardianship of their child. Furthermore, their child stands to inherit half Bob’s property if he dies.

But what if Heather were instead married to Rachel when she conceived the child?  Now Heather’s spouse, Rachel, is not considered the legal parent.  Instead, Rachel must go through the adoption process to gain the parental rights that were automatically Bob’s. Until Illinois revises the law from “presumed father” to “presumed parent,” it is discriminating against same-sex couples like Heather and Rachel.

In general, the government should stay out of private parties’ decisions about family formation. Where the government does have a say, reproductive justice demands that laws not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. As the states pass gay marriage laws, they need to pay attention to their parentage laws to ensure both reproductive and LGBTQ justice.

Support the HEAL Immigrant Women and Families Act!

This article was originally published by the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Lauren Paulk is the Law Students for Reproductive Justice Fellow at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Though the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will go a long way toward ensuring access to quality healthcare for most LGBT individuals, many LGBT immigrants are still prohibited from obtaining the affordable health care they need. Despite being authorized to live and work in the United States, many immigrants—including LGBT immigrants—are ineligible for affordable health coverage and care through vital programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Many immigrants are subject to a ban that makes them ineligible for federal Medicaid and CHIP for at least the first five years they are authorized to live and work in the United States, and other lawfully present immigrants who do not fall into an outdated and restrictive list of “qualified” immigrants are barred altogether. Since immigrants—particularly LGBT immigrants—are disproportionately low-income, it can be difficult or impossible to obtain the health care they need. That means five years without insurance coverage for critical and life-saving services, including pap smears, mammograms, HIV treatment, mental health care, or pediatric care for children.

Young people granted status through “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) are forced to wait even longer. DACA refers to a program enacted in 2012 that allows undocumented people ages 15-30 who arrived in the US as children (and who are currently in school or working) to remain here for renewable two-year periods. While they are considered lawfully present and are eligible to work and pay into public health benefits systems, they are prevented from accessing affordable care. Currently, people with DACA status are ineligible for federal Medicaid or CHIP coverage and the years they live in the United States with DACA status will not count toward the five years of lawful presence required before they become eligible. To add insult to injury, these young people are even ineligible to purchase private health insurance on the ACA exchange—with or without federal subsidies.

Many LGBT immigrants come to the US after fleeing interpersonal and state abuse based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, once they arrive, LGBT immigrants face a number of challenges to obtaining affordable and culturally competent health care. While the ACA will continue to combat the discrimination LGBT people face in the health care system due to lack of cultural competency, all of its positive effects are out of reach for LGBT immigrants because of gaps in coverage. The existing barriers to affordable health care disenfranchise hard-working LGBT immigrants who come to the United States to have a better life, only to encounter difficulty getting the care they need. Moreover, because LGBT immigrants are much less likely than non-immigrants to be able to access health care through their jobs, they are putting work into a system that does not support them.

However, new legislation introduced by Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham would change these realities for good. The Health Equity and Access under the Law for Immigrant Women and Families Act of 2014 (“HEAL Immigrant Women and Families Act” for short) restores access to Medicaid and CHIP for immigrants authorized to live and work in the United States who are otherwise eligible. The bill also extends full participation in the ACA to young people granted status under DACA.

The HEAL Immigrant Women and Families Act is especially important for families. LGBT families are more likely to live in poverty than non-LGBT families, meaning health care on the private market is often out of reach. We know that LGBT people deserve the same access to health care as non-LGBT people, and this should include LGBT immigrants. The HEAL Immigrant Women and Families Act would bridge the gaps in the ACA, Medicaid, and CHIP by extending needed care options to immigrants, and in so doing, strengthen our workplace, our economy, and our communities. NCLR applauds Congresswoman Lujan Grisham for introducing the HEAL Immigrant Women and Families Act, and we encourage other members of Congress who support the LGBT community to stand beside her in expanding the health care options for many LGBT immigrants. Please show your support for the HEAL Immigrant Women and Families Act by signing this pledge, put together by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. Please check out @NLIRH’s twitter timeline for more information on how this important bill will impact our communities!

Reflections on Women’s History Month

Deodonne Bhattarai, Resident Blogger (’12, Northeastern University School of Law)

Hannah Dustin is my great aunt thirteen generations removed.  As a direct descendant, Hannah’s story was as common to me growing up as any fairytale or children’s book.  In 1697, Hannah was kidnapped, along with her infant daughter and midwife during an Abenaki raid on her farm in present day Haverhill, MA.  At some point during her abduction, Hannah’s days-old baby was brutally killed by her captors when they smashed her against a tree to stop her from crying.  During a night on a small island in NH, Hannah, with the help of her midwife and a teenage boy who had been taken from another town, escaped after killing and scalping many of the Abenaki. Hannah then made her way back to her family in Haverhill, where she received a generous bounty and eventual notoriety for her actions.

In 1874, a statue of Hannah was erected on the small NH island. It is believed to be the first publically funded statue of a woman in the country – no small feat in a nation where only 8% of all outdoor sculptures of individuals depict women.[1] The island also took on the name of the Hannah Duston Memorial State Historic Site. However, like many strong, independent women, Hannah’s motives have been called into question and her legacy is wrought with controversy.  What is seen by some as a grieving mother’s desperate fight for survival and self-preservation is countered by claims that she was a vengeful, murderous women who should be seen as no more than a mercenary.

This past fall, a representative of the New Hampshire state legislature introduced a bill that would have, in response to this on-going controversy, stripped Hannah’s name from the island, returning it to its original name of the Contoocook Island State Historic Site. The bill was withdrawn once it was determined that the state didn’t actually own most of the island.

Women’s History Month provides an opportunity to reflect upon how we view female historical figures and I can’t help but wonder if this story would continue to garner so much ire if Hannah had been a man. The reductionist, ‘mercenary’ view denies Hannah’s experience justice in a similar way many would deny women their justice in the realm of reproductive health services.  By focusing on the broader context at the expense of the individual experience we are posed to miss out on the lived reality of women past, present, and future.

Removing Hannah’s name from the island would not change this discreet episode of violence within the broader context of our country’s contentious and painful history with the Native Americans and it is disappointing that this revisionist approach to history would come at the expense of one of our nation’s few female historical figures.  For now though, it appears that Hannah’s name will remain and other elements added to the landmark.  In this way, we can recognize and honor the Abenaki experience without literally erasing Hannah’s.

Sterilization Abuse Isn’t a Relic of the Past

Candace Gibson, Resident Blogger (’12, University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law)

As many scholars have noted, laws that were passed to involuntarily sterilize those who were poor, those with disabilities, those institutionalized, and those deemed “sexually promiscuous” and others during the beginning of the century also impacted women of color.

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt began to fear “race suicide” or that “Yankee ‘stock’ …. would be overwhelmed, numerically and hence politically, by immigrants, nonwhites, and the poor.”

Latinas were impacted on the continental United States as well as in Puerto Rico during the first half of the twentieth century. U.S. policy promoted permanent sterilization in Puerto Rico through door to door visits by health workers, financial subsidies, and employers favoring sterilized women in the hiring process.

Things hadn’t changed much by the seventies.  In Madrigal v. Quilligan, it came to light that medical practitioners at Los Angeles County Medical Center coerced low-income, immigrant women into sterilization within hours of giving birth.  One plaintiff, Maria Hurtado, described her situation: “I was told through a Spanish-speaking nurse, that the state of California did not permit a woman to undergo more than three caesarean section operations, and since this was my third, the doctor would have to do something to prevent me from having another caesarean operation.  They did not explain or describe the tubal ligation, and it was later performed on me without my knowledge or consent.” When the case was decided in 1978, the judge ruled that the practitioners had acted in good faith and without intent to harm.

Latinas in California’s mental health facilities were also subjected to sterilization abuse because they were labeled feeble-minded or because their parents could not support them or for other arbitrary reasons.  However, these women shared similar characteristics: they were of Mexican origin, they had little access to education, and their families migrated back and forth to the United States. This story of abuse started in 1909 and lasted until 1979.

To this day, advocates are hearing stories of abuse and coercion when women are in the hands of the state for their care.

During this past summer, it was reported that 132 women incarcerated in the California prison system were forcibly sterilized between 2006 to 2010.  As you can imagine, many of the women were women of color.  In 2010, Latinas and African-American women made up 59% of the California prison system and these numbers are indicative of the national trend of low income women and women of color serving time in prison for non-violent offenses.  The providers who sterilized these women assumed that these women were repeat offenders or believed these women should no longer parent because they had multiple children.  Many of the women went in for various reproductive health care needs and were misled to believe that sterilization was their only option for treatment.  It is disappointing that these women were deemed to have no dignity or autonomy by their providers. It is more distressing that the mainstream reproductive rights movement has forgotten about these women even though correctional institutions are the second largest provider of reproductive health services in this country.

The situation of these women and their families reminds us that we are a long way off from the right to parent and the social supports needed to actualize this right for many persons in this country.

Getty Images & The Lean In Collection – There’s Room to Lean Further

Deodonne Bhattarai, Resident Blogger (’12, Northeastern University School of Law)

Last month Getty Images, in collaboration with Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn.org nonprofit foundation, launched over 2,500 new stock images aimed at depicting “female leadership in contemporary work and life”. As a collection, the images are a beautifully composed collage of picture perfect women, girls, families, and friendship. However, taken individually, some of the images may perpetuate a problematic oversimplification of what it takes for women to thrive in the corporate world.

A number of the images play with the work/life balance motif, showing thin, stylish women in contemporary work and home office settings.  In an interview with NPR, Getty’s Pamela Grossman discussed how these images were intended to present an updated and more dynamic vision of motherhood.

“The older model would be that … the mother looked incredibly harried, and she would be juggling a dinner plate in one hand and a baby in the other. Sometimes even more arms would be Photoshopped onto her to show just how indeed she was juggling it all.”  Grossman compared this outdated model of a multitasking mom with that depicted in the LeanIn Collection, “They really feel like they have contemporary style, and they’re engaged and energetic.”

Although the intent behind the collection is admirable, it is hard not to question whether this contemporary view of working mothers may be setting an unobtainable bar for those of us contemplating or trying to balance motherhood with a career.  In a country where income inequality continues to grow and women face a wage gap of $.77 to every dollar earned by a man, where most lack access to paid maternity leave, where the glass ceiling and maternal wall are still very much intact for women pursuing corporate leadership, and where female attorneys represent less than one-third of lawyers at law firms (a number that has actually been dropping for the past four years), the new Collection presents a picture that is hard to reconcile with the reality working mothers face.

Many of the images of working mothers show them sitting at their immaculate desks, working on their laptops while young children balance on their knee or sit serenely nearby. How do these women manage to keep their children from grabbing at the laptops, pouring coffee over the keyboards or pulling on their dangly earrings and perfectly coiffed hair?  Where are these women supposed to be?  Certainly not at work-I have no data on this but I bet there are more dog friendly offices in the U.S. than child friendly.  So are these mothers supposed to be representing the women who are fortunate enough to have a flexible working schedule that allows them to work from home? If so, they must be wealthy enough to afford housekeeping because their offices are immaculate with few or no toys in sight for their perfectly behaved children.

Although the collection does include women of various ethnic backgrounds and ages, it fails to move past the model thin and designer dressed. The idea of a more “contemporary” working mother is nice, but at the end of the day these are stock photos used to depict artificial scenarios in order to sell a product or service, or to communicate a point of view or sentiment..

To claim that the Collection serves a loftier dual purpose is an overreach and I question whether these images of the “contemporary” working mother are actually an improvement upon the traditional multi-armed multitasking mother. What woman can possibly live up to the unrealistic standards these images depict while trying to succeed in a world where working women continue to be discriminated against because they are mothers. The Collection’s embrace of the unrealistic while touting it as “empowering,” left me feeling just the opposite – how will I ever be able to obtain such a lifestyle while balancing my legal career with the needs of my family?