Bringing Reproductive Rights & Justice to Law Schools

Sabrina Andrus, JD, Executive Director, Law Students for Reproductive Justice
Mariko Miki, JD, Director of Academic & Professional Programs, Law Students for Reproductive Justice

Cases on Repro Rights and JusticeToday Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ) is thrilled to celebrate the publication of the first-ever case book dedicated to reproductive rights and justice issues. Cases on Reproductive Rights and Justice (Foundation Press), authored by Professors Melissa Murray and Kristen Luker from UC Berkeley Law School in partnership with UC Berkeley Law School’s Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice, is the result of nearly a decade of critical discussion, convenings, and hard work.

You may not know this, but LSRJ played an integral role in the story of the case book. Our law student members have campaigned across the country for nearly a decade, advocating for courses that frame reproductive issues as part of a larger conversation about power, race, and class. Back in 2004, under the leadership of LSRJ’s Founder and then-Executive Director Cari Sietstra, we began to envision curriculum enrichment efforts in order to support our law student members who were lamenting the lack of courses dedicated to reproductive rights issues (sadly, one 15 minute discussion of Roe v. Wade in Constitutional Law does not count as a detailed and nuanced discussion of abortion jurisprudence). We got to work supporting law students as they campaigned for courses, first at schools including Harvard and Berkeley. We quickly developed a model curriculum to help them in their endeavors, and celebrated the first course created as a result of our initiative: a class at Harvard taught by Janet Benshoof, founder of the Global Justice Center and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

And to provide our students with another tool for their campus advocacy, we began surveying ABA-accredited law schools to get a sense of how many reproductive rights law and justice courses were being taught, publishing a Course Survey detailing our findings. The latest 2014 Reproductive Rights Law & Justice Course Survey, for example, found that since 2003, 76 unique reproductive rights law & justice courses have been taught at 46 law schools in 22 states. And almost one-third of those courses are the result of student-led course campaigns.

But we needed more. Kara Loewentheil, JD (’08, Harvard Law School), former LSRJ Board President and current Director of the Public Rights/Private Conscious Project at Columbia Law School, recalls, “When I was in law school there were few reproductive rights classes and no authoritative set of materials for teaching them. In 2007, then LSRJ-Executive Director Jill Adams and I approached the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project and faculty at Yale Law School to talk about developing a case book, but we soon learned that there was a lot of preparatory work that had to be done first.  So, we began the Teaching and Scholarship Initiative, which hosted gatherings of scholars to discuss and encourage new scholarly work in reproductive rights.”

Inspired and guided by those conversations, LSRJ began working in 2010 on the next iteration of our course campaign and model curriculum initiatives, a Reproductive Rights & Justice Reader, building upon the countless lessons learned from the nearly 25 course campaign victories our members had achieved. The bulk of this work was carried out by our Legal Fellows at the time, Elizabeth Kukura, JD (Freedman Fellow, Temple University School of Law) and Jessica Rubenstein, JD (Legal Counsel, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California). While we originally anticipated self-publication, we quickly understood that to achieve legitimacy within the legal academy and to reach the largest audience (and therefore provide the most help to law students, lawyers, and faculty interested in discussing reproductive rights issues with an intersectional analysis of race and class), we would need institutional affiliation. So we reached out to Professors Melissa Murray and Kristen Luker at Berkeley Law School in 2012. At that meeting we conveyed our members’ desire for a case book that discussed not only the more traditionally covered issues like abortion and contraception, but that explicitly framed those and other reproductive issues as intertwined with the critical social justice issues of our time – racism, homophobia, classism and so on. Our members wanted more than just a brief discussion about abortion jurisprudence in a Constitutional Law class, and instead demanded a textbook that helped guide a conversation about how systems of power and institutionalized oppression play out in courtrooms and capitol buildings across the country. We offered up the draft of the Reader, our vision for it, and the market analysis we had done to Professors Murray and Luker. And we continued to support their work, most recently as an official reviewer for one chapter of the case book.

To say we are ecstatic at the result of over 10 years of behind-the-scenes organizing is a true understatement. We anticipate that the case book will facilitate the course campaign efforts of our current members in ways that the model curriculum, Course Survey, and Reader could not. LSRJ Board Vice President Cecilia Fierro (’15, University of San Francisco School of Law) has been advocating for a course since she began her studies, and shares, “one of our biggest hurdles was the absence of a case book on the subject. Several of my professors at USF have sought to integrate issues of reproductive rights with race, class, and gender into their lectures, but this casebook allows for the exclusive study of the RJ framework. Basically, instead of trying to analyze a subject like criminal law with an RJ lens, students can now start with the RJ framework and see the ways in which other legal subjects influence reproductive autonomy.”

While our law student members are eager to utilize the case book in their course campaigns and learn from it in their course victories, instructors are equally enthusiastic to begin teaching from it. LSRJ’s Academic Advisory Council member Aziza Ahmed (Associate Professor of Law, Northeastern University School of Law) tells us, “As a former student of Professor Luker and now as a Reproductive and Sexual Rights professor myself, I am thrilled to have this case book to utilize in my course.  We have long needed a textbook that consolidates key cases on reproduction and sexuality that helps to illustrate how sexuality and reproduction sit at the center of much of our legal battles today. As a law student who was active in the reproductive justice movement throughout law school, I know how important it is to have a casebook that students can turn to as a resource and brings gravitas to the field of reproductive and sexual rights.”

Finally, as Kara Loewentheil says, “Almost a decade later, I’m so thrilled to see that our dream has become a reality under the wise and brilliant guidance of Melissa Murray and Kristen Luker. I’m only sad that I’m no longer a student and won’t be able to take a class using the text – but soon I hope to be able to teach from it!”

 

Kids Will Be Kids, or Why We Should Stop Forcing Gender On Our Children

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

I spent the past weekend at a family friend’s in northern California, with no internet/phone access, and around 40 children ages 5 months – 10 years.  To many — myself included — this sounds like a nightmare.  I have never considered myself a “kid person,” and tend to feel uncomfortable when interacting with children.  My friends always seemed much more natural than I did when communicating with toddlers and pre-schoolers.  I didn’t understand how you could relate to someone whose age was yours divided by four.  So I was completely taken by surprise when I started forming relationships with several of the younger children over the weekend.  Boys and girls alike wanted to hold my hand, to run around together, and to tickle me to death.  Maybe it was because the parents at this weekend are fairly progressive, but I noticed right away that both sons and daughters were held to the same social expectations.  One moment in particular struck me: I was talking to a boy and a girl, and the boy kept interrupting her.  She turned to him, said “Excuse me!” and finished her sentence.  She didn’t let him cut her off again.  During my stay at The Land (the official name of the house upstate), I watched kids of every gender get dirty playing outside, decorate papier mache  bunnies, and sing along to folk music.

It’s no secret that gender socialization exists, and it starts right from when the doctor proclaims, “It’s a girl!”  The gender binary is coded for far more than difference in “biological sex,” a term debated today.  Girls and boys are expected to talk, dress, and play differently.  Gender differences are exaggerated to the point that activities are often gendered — girls get to play dress up, boys get to run around outside.  The socialization of boyhood and girlhood forces children into very distinct pink /blue boxes, leaving little room for gender expression outside of their assigned identity.  This limits cis boys and girls to either “girly” or “boyish” expressions, and completely disregards trans children’s possibility of living authentically.

Fighting gender socialization is a reproductive justice issue.  The right to parent with dignity goes both ways; children deserve to self-express in ways that make them feel comfortable and safe.  Returning to San Francisco after the weekend away, I was bombarded with gendered ads for young people.  Maybe a world without gendering childhood is only possible during a hippie retreat.  But from now on, I’ll keep on helping little kids play however they’d like.

Beyond Choice, Beyond Our Community

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

In the RJ community, word travels fast.  Scary fast.  So after the New York Times posted a well meaning yet misguided article regarding Planned Parenthood’s shift from its pro-choice framework, all of my feeds blew up with conversation, from Twitter, to Facebook, to my LSRJ intern email.  The article seems to credit Planned Parenthood’s recent (actually, three-year old) move away from the phrase “pro-choice” as being innovative and in-touch with today’s women.  The problem is, women of color adopted this stance over two decades ago with the term reproductive justice.  LSRJ took part in a Twitter storm using the hashtags #KnowYourHistory and #StopErasing as a chance to re-educate — or perhaps introduce — folks on the beginnings of beyond-choice reproductive justice activism.  I understand being sick of educating again and again people who are supposed to be our allies, but I also sense the hope of strength in numbers of more people “tuned in” to reproductive justice tenets.   I was surprised when I sat down with some older family members later in the day, family who considers themselves feminists, very involved with current issues regarding reproductive health, etcetera.  They asked me “Why would we want to move away from the word ‘choice’ ?”  I launched into my well-rehearsed explanation of the history of reproductive justice.  They seemed unmoved and I wondered if our differences in approaching the issue were too big to cross.  My family members are white, upper-class, educated folks who can separate out abortion from other RJ issues because of their privilege.  They spent their adult lives advocating for abortion access and birth control — “of course we believe in choice!” For me, it’s about more than abortion and birth control.  For me, it’s about access to high quality preventative healthcare, and childcare to those need it.  It’s about validating queer relationships.  It’s ensuring everyone can live free from sexual abuse and coercion.  It’s about so much more than Pro-Choice vs. Anti-Choice.

Loretta Ross was a guest lecturer at Smith College this past year and I will never forget how moved I was listening to her during my Introduction to Study of Women and Gender class. She explained how choice alone did not make sense of the reproductive oppression that women of color faced.  It was Loretta Ross and that class that made me realize RJ spoke to me more than anything I’d ever studied. We can’t erase barriers to reproductive injustice by only focusing on abortion when large populations of women have been forcibly sterilized, exposed to toxic chemicals in the workplace, or been shackled to a hospital bed in labor.  Why is this difficult to communicate to people who have long taken a pro-choice stance?  I have no answers, but it always seems to come down to power and privilege.  While I’m glad that Planned Parenthood is acknowledging that abortion is but a facet in women’s reproductive freedom, I hope that we will continue to honor the true foremothers of the RJ movement.

WHPA Revives Debate over Abortion Restrictions at Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing

Rhiannon DiClemente, Guest Blogger (’16, Temple University Beasley School of Law)

Early Thursday morning on July 15, 2014, the Senate halls were bustling with interns, staff members, and local advocates eager to witness the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on S. 1696, also known as the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013 (WHPA). Attendees, who managed to overflow the room, patiently awaited testimony provided by members of Congress, doctors, and activists, both for and against the bill. In light of the decisions in Hobby Lobby and McCullen, it was reassuring to see politicians taking a long over-due stand to protect a woman’s constitutional right to determine whether and when to bear a child or end a pregnancy.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), addresses medically unnecessary state restrictions claimed to “protect” women’s health. It requires that state legislators prove state laws restricting abortion are in fact medically necessary, rather than politically or ideologically motivated. It also requires that states regulate abortion providers in exactly the same way they do other clinics and doctors who provide comparable services. The bill has its shortcomings, such as failing to address clinic violence, insurance prohibitions, and parental consent laws, as a March 2014 blog post highlights. However, it is an important step forward in combatting laws that have a disparate impact on low-income women, immigrant women, LGBT persons, and women of color.

Why is this bill important? As a LSRJ chapter leader at Temple University School of Law and a summer legal intern at the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), I know that despite the fact that we have Roe , the web of state restrictions has decimated abortion access. In states like Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi, the situation is dire. In 2012, the Mississippi legislature passed HB 1390, mandating that any physician performing abortions in the state have admitting privileges at an area hospital (an unnecessary practice). During the Senate committee hearing, Dr. Willie Parker, a board-certified OB/GYN and the last physician providing abortion care in Mississippi, testified that despite 13 attempts to gain admitting privileges at regional hospitals, not one of his requests has been granted. This is just one example of how seemingly ‘safety-oriented’ legislation is really aimed to shut down clinics and restrict abortion access.

At the hearing, Rep. Janet Chu (D-CA27) testified that between 2011 and 2013, states passed over 200 restrictions blocking access to abortion services. This translates to more restrictions on women’s health care in three years than in the entire preceding decade. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) highlighted that these restrictions have forced women to travel greater distances and endure longer wait times to obtain an abortion. “The effect of these laws is that a woman’s constitutional right now depends on her zip code,” stated Rep. Chu, “We need laws that put women’s health and safety first – not politics.”

By speaking out against arbitrary restrictions that do not reflect medical best practice standards, supporters of S. 1696 have declared their respect for the constitutional right to access abortion services and trust in a woman’s ability to make the best choices for her own health and life.

Full testimony can be found here.

New Study Debunks Six of the Worst “Myths” About Sex-Selective Abortion

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

The documentary It’s a Girl was released in 2012 to immediate acclaim in traditionally progressive and pro-choice corners – the Amnesty International Film Festival made it an official selection and Ms. Magazine called the movie “unflinching” in its positive review. Fully titled It’s a Girl: the Three Deadliest Words in the World, the film describes the problem of son preference in India and China, telling how, tragically, as many girls are “eliminated” yearly in those countries as are born in the United States. However, the documentary was not quite what it appeared: a 2013 article in Slate uncovered that It’s a Girl was produced with strong, but well hidden, ties to an organization called Harvest Media Ministry that makes anti-choice videos. The film also has a subtle, but real anti-abortion message. The really troubling thing about It’s a Girl is not necessarily who produced it however – anti’s are not automatically incapable of producing material of worth. Rather, the problem is how films like this fit into the narrative of another issue here in the United States: the recent onslaught of “sex-selective abortion” ban legislation that impose criminal penalties on the performance of an abortion sought because of the sex of the fetus.

CaptureLast week I attended a talk coinciding with the release of a new report on the issue of sex-selective abortion bans called “Replacing Myths with Facts.” Produced by Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), and the University of Chicago, the study identifies six common and damaging myths and misconceptions that have allowed sex-selective abortion bans to worm their way into so many legislative sessions. Chief amongst these myths is that male-biased sex ratios “are proof that sex-selective abortions are occurring,” (spoiler: there are other major factors at play) and that the “primary motivation behind laws banning sex-selective abortion in the United States is to prevent gender-based discrimination” (another spoiler: it’s really about restricting access to abortions in general).

The speakers began their presentation by introducing the room to It’s a Girl. It was suggested at the talk, and I am inclined to agree, that one of the reasons both that It’s a Girl has been a hit among pro-choice people and that anti-choice organizations and politicians have so aggressively pushed sex-selective abortion bans is that the issue of sex selection is particularly uncomfortable for pro-choice folks. The notion that people would be actively choosing boy babies over girl babies, and acting on those choices, is disturbing to any person with even the broadest feminist beliefs. Additionally, recent technological innovations that potentially open the door to allowing people to use artificial reproductive technologies to choose traits, including sex, for so-called “designer babies” make questions of sex preference more current and significant. In light of these realities, it is not terribly surprising that many normally pro-choice people may be willing to start carving out exceptions to abortion access – and it is equally unsurprising that racial stereotypes and misconceptions have played a major role.

This, of course, is where “Replacing Myths with Facts” comes in. In its introduction, “Replacing Myths” explains how proponents of sex-selective abortion bans focus on “the problem of ‘missing women’ in China and India in particular” to justify their policies. They rely on and reinforce stereotypes that people in the Asian and Pacific Island community bring these presences and practices to the US. This is myth #5 that “Replacing Myths” debunks: the most recent studies have found that foreign born Chinese, Indians, and Koreans actually “have more girls overall than white Americans.” This is a particularly important myth to debunk because the way the laws are designed – putting the onus on the health care provider to deny abortions based on son preference with the threat of criminal sanctions –opens the door to doctors generally denying API women abortions out of stereotype fueled fear.

Sex-selective abortion bans have become an extremely prevalent tactic to limit abortion access, and the fact that these policies are based heavily on racist stereotypes and spread by playing on people’s racial misconceptions make this an issue of particular import to supporters of reproductive justice. I encourage you to read “Replacing Myths with Facts” and to inoculate yourself as best you can against the lies around sex-selective abortion.

Nouns and Adjectives and Why Neither Addresses the Issue

Sasha Young, LSRJ Summer Intern (’16, Northwestern School of Law)race-391x260

Last weekend at LSRJ’s annual Leadership Convention I co-moderated the Women of Color Issue Caucus. The name struck me. I hadn’t realized that we were called “people of color” now.  Minority? Non-white? Person of color? The landscape of terms to describe race in America is full of landmines, and it looks like “people of color” is the new standard of political correctness. I find this to be problematic in some significant ways. First of all, I don’t think it’s any better or worse than most other terms. Secondly, I think it still fits into the same structure of white being the default or standard. Lastly, it prevents some people from doing the legwork of thinking about race and its complexities.

Whenever someone uses the term “person of color,” they are referring to a group of people who don’t benefit from white privilege. Many people feel like the existing terms describing a group of oppressed-and/or-marginalized-in-one-way-or-another people have been insufficient: “minority” could be technically incorrect in certain places or situations, and “non-white” defines a group by what it’s not. “Minority” might not technically be correct, but neither is “person of color” if you’re referring to a fair-skinned Asian woman who might be the same color as a white person. Race is not just about pigment.

Non-white is probably the most technically precise word to use, but it defines a group as a negative, but in another way so does “person of color.” The default “person” is not “of color” unless you specify so. The frame certainly isn’t that we have “people of color,” and then “people lacking color.” “Person of color” feels like it’s expressing the same concept—that the default is white unless expressed otherwise. Also, it doesn’t go without saying that everyone who isn’t white doesn’t have the same experience. Clumping us all together just supports the structure of supremacy.

Loretta Ross says the term “woman of color” emerged from a racially diverse group of women as a political term denoting solidarity against white supremacy. I can appreciate the political nature, but I think the phrase is often used as a safe word for white people nervous about discussing race. Race is difficult to discuss for everyone, and it’s not clear how to avoid offending anyone. But that difficulty isn’t fixed by using “color” as the object of a prepositional phrase instead of an adjective. I think that finding one word or phrase which we—persons with very different experiences not marked by white privilege—can sign off on is simplistic. There is no simple way around the question, “Who exactly am I referring to?” White people can’t hide behind “people of color” if they are actually referring to black people and Latinos defending their place in law school as more than waiters or gardeners, or Arabs and Muslims constantly being targets of suspicion, or non-white people who are allowed into a “closed” space without white people. The answer to the question “what term is ok to describe people marginalized by white privilege?” is predictable: it depends.

Race is problematic; language describing it is problematic. “People of color” belongs on the same list as “racial minorities,” “racially marginalized people,” and “non-white people.” They are all phrases that can be appropriate, inappropriate, offensive, or fine depending on how and by whom they are used.

 

See this and this for more.

LSReJuvenated after the Annual Leadership Institute

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

Ever experience “social justice burnout”?  When your day-to-day is filled with researching and discussing painful topics, it can feel daunting, or even impossible, to continue in RJ work.  The 2014 Leadership Institute gave me new energy to approach the rest of this internship and to continue my work in reproductive justice.  After a whirlwind weekend starting and ending with the cute/ creepy Virgin America safety music video, the LSRJ national office is back in Oakland.  The LSRJ seventh annual Leadership Institute, hosted at George Washington University School of Law, was beyond successful from both the national office side and the attendees’ side.  I was excited to represent an organization and wear the “LSRJ hat,” while also wearing the “attendee hat” which  meant that I could check in with folks who I could consider my peers for honest feedback of the conference.  Everyone I had the chance to talk to loved the weekend as much as I did! Here were my five favorite parts of the 2014 LSRJ Leadership Institute:

1) Panels and workshops.  Of course, this was the main content of the LI, and I had the opportunity to sit in on several workshops as the point-person.  During the presentations – which varied from ways to message around abortion, to a how-to for strategic LSRJ chapter planning, to an introduction to policymaking – I got to absorb knowledge from experts across the spectrum of RJ advocacy.  Judging from how engaged our attendees were, they also appreciated the breadth of knowledge that they can now take back to their LSRJ chapters.

2) Experiencing behind the scenes facilitation.  There’s so much that goes into facilitating a conference, and I only played a small part in making sure this LI went smoothly.  Working with the national office to ensure every detail was set made me appreciate how much forethought and planning has to go into organizing successful events.  From handing water bottles to speakers, to timing each workshop, I was only able to successfully complete my part of the work because of the effort that Keely and Samantha had already put in.  Y’all are awesome!

3) Giving a presentation to a large audience.  Part of my responsibility at the LI was presenting one of LSRJ’s event toolkits to the chapter leaders.  Because of the preparation work we all put in beforehand, I felt 100% comfortable and in control of the materials I presented.  As I said to my mom on the phone afterwards, now I understand why you’re supposed to prepare presentations instead of winging it!  I’m hoping that my presentation of the sex-ed event toolkit, along with Gavin and Sasha’s event toolkit presentations, helped chapter leaders better understand how to put on successful events on their campuses.

4) Connecting with LSRJ folks. One person I spoke with this weekend called the LSRJ network a “family.”  She said the term networking is too scary and inaccessible to describe the connections formed during the LI.  I appreciated that so many law students were willing to engage with me – a lowly undergrad!- and suggest different organizations I should check out in the upcoming semester.  Like I said before, I was lucky enough to both represent internsLSRJ and interact with attendees in a more interpersonal sense.

5) Bonding with the office!  There’s something about flying across the coast that makes a national office closer.  I can’t speak for all of us, but I have the feeling everyone had a more-than-fun time together, especially us interns.  Yes, this is a Snapchat:

Thanks to everyone who attended the 2014 Leadership Institute, and I hope that everyone there found it beyond worthwhile!

Mirena IUD Litigation, Misinformation, and a Few Thoughts on Informed Choice

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

According to a recent commentary in the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP) peer reviewed journal, Contraception, reproductive health care clinics are currently witnessing a notable upswing in the number of patients requesting the removal of their Mirena IUDs. Mirena is a hormonal intrauterine system that prevents pregnancy for around five years through the release of levonorgestrel. And like other types of IUDs and long-term birth control, Mirena is very popular among the public health community: the ARHP refers to the device as safe and effective a number of times throughout the commentary. However, many women are choosing to have their IUDs removed and report being frightened by prevalent online and television publicity of common and devastating side-effects, including migration, perforation, and infertility. The problem, explains ARHP, is that these side-effect are not common, and some of them are actually fake – or “medically implausible” as the article puts it.

The supposed dangers of the Mirena device have made their way into the public consciousness as the result of solicitations for plaintiffs in mass litigation against the device’s manufacturer Bayer. This all initially passed me by, but after researching for this blog post I can report back that there is a lot of if-you-or-a-loved-one-has-been… out there. Mirena, like any other form of birth control, has potential risks, but as a result of media and advertising coverage these risks appear hugely magnified. ARHP contends that this hurts women in two ways: 1) by decreasing the number of women using long lasting birth control, and 2) by deterring contraceptive development by threatening that future technology will be met with similar litigation – note that from the 1970s to the 1980s, the number of companies pursuing contraceptive research fell from 13 to 1.*

For me, the most significant impact that misinformation around the Mirena device causes is not a reduction in the overall number of women using long term contraception. Rather, I am most concerned that opportunistic Mirena litigation and junk science could dissuade women from pursuing or keeping a birth control method that they would otherwise have chosen. IUDs do have some common side-effects – especially immediately following insertion – that can range from unpleasant to awful, so there are entirely legitimate reasons to remove the device early. But for those who actually do want to use and keep an IUD, misinformation can be tantamount to manipulation. Therefore, the central question the ARHP article raises is: what does informed and dignified decision making actually look like when we are so often bombarded with misinformation?

A quick search of the word “Mirena” shows just how murky the waters are when it comes to information on this IUD. Case in point: the first search result on Google, after Mirena’s official website, is DrugWatch.com, which describes a terrifying and “frequently encountered complication,” called “migration,” in which the IUD perforates the uterus and enters the body cavity, causing pain, infection, and damage to nearby organs. The ARHP article, on the other hand, scathingly refers to this problem as “fictitious.” Another site, in its review of the truth behind Mirena lawsuit ads, refers to migration as “so rare that even with tens of millions of women using IUDs worldwide, we can’t estimate how often it happens.”

I can easily envision a situation where a woman may encounter that first explanation of migration and immediately visit her doctor to have her IUD removed. Should the doctor simply dismiss her concerns out of hand because she knows that they are unfounded? Or should the doctor obey her patient’s wishes with the knowledge that she may have been manipulated into removing a device she actually wanted? The answer, as answers so often do, falls somewhere in the middle. LSRJ’s definition of reproductive justice holds that people must be able to “exercise the rights and access the resources they need to thrive and to decide whether, when, and how to have and parent children with dignity…” Here, my hypothetical patient has the right to access the resources she actually wants and needs, so it is her doctor’s responsibility to explain the true nature of the risks and dispel the misinformation. Then, should the patient still decide that the risk is too great, that choice should be met with the same degree of respect. Of course this all relies on the doctors themselves being entirely up on the most recent data about the device they are inserting/ removing and that they themselves are not intent on spreading misinformation.  So… fingers crossed on that one.

*From the ARHP article, this appears to have resulted from the litigation concerning the Dalkon shield. I do not think the writer intended to suggest that that was a case of junk science or junk law. I certainly don’t suggest that.

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.