Archive for the ‘human rights’ Category

Marriage Equality and Reproductive Justice

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

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

In light of the news about the Supreme Court rejecting marriage equality cases, it might interest you to know how these cases intertwine with reproductive justice.

When they fought to uphold their bans against gay marriage, Indiana and Wisconsin framed their argument chiefly in terms of reproduction.  Marriage, the states argued, is a regulatory framework meant to incentivize fathers to help raise accidental children.  Since same-sex couples cannot procreate, there is no reason to grant them the right to marry.   The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found this approach laughable, reproaching the states’ reasoning in a must-read, highly entertaining opinion.

Notably in the opinion, the Court alluded to a central reproductive justice issue: abortion.  The Court reasoned that due to the likelihood of a married same-sex couple adopting a child, the number of abortions would decrease.  “Carrying a baby to term and putting the baby up for adoption is an alternative to abortion for a pregnant woman who thinks that as a single mother she could not cope with the baby.” (p. 22)

Behind this dictum is the principal that Pro-Life advocates can work towards their goal through marriage equality; rather than placing legislative roadblocks in the way of access to abortion, enacting marriage equality will naturally lead to fewer abortions.

When it comes to granting civil rights or violating reproductive rights to achieve the same effect, let’s hope legislators chose the former.

Politician Advocates Birth Control for Welfare Recipients

Friday, September 19th, 2014

Elise Foreman, Resident Blogger (‘16, Emory University School of Law)

Stories depicting the regulation and subsequent criminalization of the poor are far too common, almost mundane, in a country that espouses the virtues of democracy and asserts constitutional rights in the drop of a hat. However, the recent kerfuffle in Arizona points to something even more sinister baked into America’s apple pie coating. Earlier this week, the state’s GOP vice president (rightfully) resigned his post after advocating for sterilization of the state’s Medicaid recipients. This cracker-jack reasoning was punctuated with the statement: “. . . if you want to (reproduce) or use drugs or alcohol, then get a job.” (Full story here). The debate over drug testing for government aid recipients has been dissected ad nauseum, and fortunately been struck down in the courts. (For a review of this issue, see The Huffington Post’s collection).

But this latest call for sterilization should cause hesitation in even the most conservative thinkers. In a political climate that still hotly debates abortion even 40 years following Roe v. Wade, these statements point to a dissonance in the reproductive debate. Certainly there is a difference between birth control and abortion, however the point remains centered over the control one has over his or her reproductive future. Individuals, by virtue of being human, claim the right to exercise complete autonomy over their reproductive choices; this right is not premised on his or her financial situation or employment status. Regulating the reproductive choices of an individual based upon his or her Medicaid status demonstrates that such individual should be disallowed of this inherent human right because he or she is in fact less than human. No person or entity should breach another’s bodily integrity, nor advocate for rules that do so. For once and for all, get the government out of these intimate decisions and focused on topics it should be discussing. I have a list.

Pregnant in a War Zone

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

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

A couple of years ago a dear friend of mine had her dream wedding “back home” in Palestine. She’s now battling the Atlanta heat through her first pregnancy, and with the recent surge in violence in the Occupied Territories, I thought for the first time what it would have been like for her to be pregnant “back home.”  The Occupied Palestinian Territories are fraught with human rights situations. I’ve thought about many of the different aspects before, but before I imagined my friend, I had never really taken a reproductive justice lens to the conflict. Immediately, my mind jumped from sexual assault, to access to abortion services, to getting maternity care in a place where sanitary napkins were only recently removed from the list of blockaded items.

The implications for pregnant women are predictably scary. An investigation into the 2008-2009 siege in Gaza revealed horrifying stories of women walking for miles through heavy shelling to find safe places to deliver. Hospitals prioritize the injured, travel is nearly impossible, and physicians are overwhelmed by trauma injuries. One woman, Dalal, recounted her doctor shouting at her for putting the ambulance driver’s life at risk when she should have delivered at home. Another woman, Rula, recounted walking alone for more than an hour in active labor only to be turned away from the hospital because there were too many injured people and not enough staff. Another report found that between 2000 and 2007, ten per cent of pregnant Palestinian women in the Occupied Territories were forced to give birth while stopped at Israeli checkpoints. Of the 69 documented births, 35 babies and 5 mothers died.

Obviously Occupied Palestine is not the only place where women are pregnant and give birth under violent and dangerous conditions. Stories like these are undoubtedly repeated throughout Syria, Congo, Timor, and every conflict zone in between. The immediate trauma of violent conflict leaves practically everything else as “collateral damage” of war, but I suppose this is just a little known bullet point on a long list of reasons we need a sustainable solution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine.

The Changing Abortion Conversation in Latin America and the Caribbean

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

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.

 

Birth Control vs. Population Control, and Why it Matters

Monday, June 30th, 2014

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

Earlier this month, I attended a discussion hosted by Population Action International, NARAL, and the Ibis Foundation, addressing the global gag rule and its effects on reproductive health worldwide.  Basically, the gag rule is a U.S. executive policy that prevents any countries receiving U.S. family planning aid from offering abortion services, even if the country wants to use its own funds to do so.  It was created under the Reagan administration – every Democratic president has since reversed it, and every Republican president has reinstated it.  It’s a clear anti-choice policy that has disastrous effects on family planning initiatives worldwide.

During the talk, the NARAL representative alluded to allying with environmental action groups.  When birth control advocates/family planning initiatives “go abroad” and team up with environmentalists, I tend to get concerned.  The language can quickly move away from the need for universal access to the variety of contraceptive methods and instead focus on how developing nations are “irresponsibly reproducing”.   So often I hear rhetoric like, Lower birth rates will put less strain on our natural resources! Or, We’re reaching our carrying capacity!  Such statements are especially misleading because the U.S. actually consumes more natural resources than developing countries.  I was pleasantly surprised that this talk kept its focus on ensuring the right to family planning for all women.

As a person who cares about RJ, I absolutely support the right to global contraceptive access and I also think it’s really important to take a nuanced look at the way we talk about population control in relationship to birth control access, in the light of the U.S.’s own eugenic history.

Let’s not forget that not one generation ago we were forcing sterilization upon disabled people, incarcerated people, and poor people, in an attempt to create a more “fit” American population.

Let’s not forget that in the 1970s, African American and Puerto Rican women were disproportionately sterilized without their consent.  Meanwhile, white women were campaigning for the right to birth control.

Let’s not forget that the United States knowingly sold the dangerous Dalkon Shield contraceptive to developing countries, after it was removed for sale in America.

Let’s not forget that the reproductive justice movement aims for the freedom to choose when and how to have a family (or not).   When we introduce anything else into the equation – even for the sake of “saving our planet” – it becomes coercive.  If we shift away from this concept for the sake of “saving our planet” we lose the voices that matter most: the people in the population.  And if replacement population rates become the end goal for contraception distribution, rather than enabling women’s agency and autonomy worldwide, we’re at risk of replicating our eugenic past (and present).  Population control efforts and RJ efforts may both create the same result (a lower population), but to me, intent is what matters most.

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

Monday, June 30th, 2014

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.

Sterilization Abuse Isn’t a Relic of the Past

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

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.

Do you know about the Helms Amendment?

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

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

Many of us know about the Hyde Amendment, but do you know about the Helms Amendment?  The Helms Amendment was passed in 1973 to the Foreign Assistance Act, restricting abortion funding abroad. Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary – here are the top 5 things you need to know about how it hurts women globally.

  1. Both the Helms Amendment and the Hyde Amendment are restrictions on abortion care that deny women at home and abroad the care they need.  Both were passed soon after Roe v. Wade became law.
  2.  The Helms Amendment attaches restrictions on abortion care to overseas federal funding.  It not only withholds access to safe abortion services but it also denies women information on abortion care.  Millions of women rely on U.S. funded programs in their countries for their reproductive health care.
  3. The Helms Amendment contributes to 47,000 deaths each year because women are forced to seek unsafe abortion services.
  4. Unfortunately, the Helms Amendment has also negatively impacted efforts to increase the use of contraception for women who would like to begin a contraception regimen after seeking abortion services.  Studies show that women are more likely to use contraception following abortion care when family planning services are offered at the same facility where they received abortion services.  Due to the Helms Amendment, women must find family planning counseling and services at another facility, lessening their ability to receive contraception.
  5.  Latinas in the developing world are greatly affected by the Helms Amendment because it deincentivizes efforts to decriminalize or legalize abortion care.  For instance, 18 states in Mexico have passed constitutional amendments that declare the sanctity of life since conception.  In these 18 states, women will not be able to get the care they need because they are less likely to have providers who are not receiving U.S. funding.

For more information, check out this factsheet by our friends at Ipas.

Reproductive Justice as Self-Determination

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Ruth Dawson, Resident Blogger (’12, Emory University School of Law)

A report recently came out about the conditions of women members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s biggest rebel group.  Though there is a “veneer of [gender] equality” in the organization, the report tells horrific stories of women, including young teenagers, forced to receive contraceptive shots and forbidden from having children.  Perhaps most sickening are the accounts of FARC women being forced to have abortions, or losing their infants to infanticide, in the instances when they did become pregnant.

But I am not disgusted by the bare fact that the women had abortions or used contraception.  Instead, as a reproductive justice advocate, I am most deeply troubled by the way these women were stripped of agency.  Forced contraception, forced abortion, and – not unlikely – forced sex, all strip women of self-determination.

Reproductive justice encompasses far more than the affirmative right to access birth control or abortion, as many opponents seem to believe.  Instead, RJ is about all people deciding if they want to have children, and if so, when and how to have and raise them.  Reproductive justice represents a broad universe of control over one’s own body, and over one’s self.  And that control goes in both directions.  The key to reproductive justice, then, is not just that people are using birth control, or that people are having abortions.  Rather, it is that individuals are making these decisions, unforced and uncoerced, for themselves.

For Immigrant Women, Health Care Remains Out of Reach

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

This article was published by The National Women’s Health Network.

Candace Gibson is the Law Students for Reproductive Justice Second Year Fellow at National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, a Steering Committee Member of the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights.

Early this year, I heard Sophia’s story, and it has stuck with me ever since. Sophia is an undocumented Latina immigrant living in Texas. Because of her immigration status, she is locked out of our health care system. Neither her nor her husband’s employer offers health insurance and, although Sophia’s family would qualify for Medicaid coverage on the basis of income, they are barred from participating in the program because they are undocumented. They are too afraid to enroll their children, who are U.S. citizens. While a handful of Texas clinics serve undocumented women’s health needs, none are easy to get to, and even the sliding scale fees are beyond Sophia’s reach.

A few years ago, Sophia experienced a painful gynecological problem and needed care. Without options, however, she suffered without care until she finally became desperate. Eventually, she was forced to cross the border into Mexico to seek care there; pay a coyote to bring her back into the U.S. by swimming across the Rio Grande; and risk the dangers of sexual assault, violence, and deportation.

Because immigrant women often live in the shadows, it is hard to know how many share Sophia’s story — but we do know that millions of immigrant women share her circumstances. As Congress debates immigration reform, many women’s health advocates and immigrants are watching closely to see how reform efforts might address this population’s barriers to accessing health care. Unfortunately, the proposals currently under consideration in the U.S. House and Senate perpetuate — and even exacerbate — these barriers, making stories like Sophia’s the heartbreaking status quo of immigrant women in the United States.

A Troubling History

Immigrants have long faced restrictions in accessing health insurance and services, but a proliferation of policies in the last few decades have made access even harder. In 1996, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA, more commonly known as “welfare reform”). PRWORA instituted a mandatory five-year delay for lawfully present immigrant women who qualify for Medicaid to get covered. So, an immigrant woman with legal permanent resident (LPR) status has to wait for five years before she can get Medicaid coverage.

The 2009 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA, also called “Obamacare”) explicitly left immigrant families out of the expansion of health care access for millions of Americans. Under the ACA, undocumented women cannot receive subsidies or tax credits to participate in the Health Insurance Marketplaces, and they are barred from buying plans at full price (although it is not likely many could afford to do so).i This restriction undermines the ACA’s spirit, which was to ensure access to quality, affordable health care for all uninsured people in this country.

One of the few ways an immigrant woman can get limited health care, for a limited amount of time, is if her state is one of the few that has opted to use its own funds to provide Medicaid coverage for pregnant, immigrant, low-income women. In 15 states all immigrant women qualify for coverage, regardless of their immigration status; in another 20 states, only LPR women are eligible.ii A major problem with this policy is that the health coverage is limited to care directly related to the pregnancy, so a woman with an unrelated health condition (like a broken bone) cannot get care for that condition.

Immigration Reform Debate Leaves Health Care Behind

Earlier this year, and after months of intense negotiation, the U.S. Senate passed a historic comprehensive immigration reform bill. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S. 744) provides a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented people and addresses several of the immigrant communities’ key concerns. Yet, the bill also includes severe restrictions on health coverage for the very immigrant families it seeks to bring out of the shadows. S. 744 adds to PRWORA’s terrible legacy by withholding health care for people on the pathway to citizenship for up to 15 years.iii  The law requires aspiring citizens to pay taxes, fees, and penalties; take English classes, which are hard to find in many communities; demonstrate regular employment, which is challenging in this economy; as well as other requirements. During this 15-year timeframe, they are excluded from affordable health care.iv

We should note that several lawmakers championed immigrant women’s health and well-being during the Senate debate, including Senators Hirono (D-HI), Boxer (D-CA), Leahy (D-VT), and Murray (D-WA). Senator Hirono introduced the “Taxpayer Fairness” amendment (ultimately withdrawn), which would have prevented any immigrant woman who fulfilled her tax obligations from being barred from Federal programs, including health programs, based on her immigration status.v

Under the Senate bill, immigrant women on the path to citizenship would be denied access to Medicaid services for 15 years (or longer if their change in status is delayed), which could be the difference between life and death for a woman with breast or cervical cancer. For many immigrant women, getting — and staying — on this path to citizenship will be a daunting challenge. Many will not be able to achieve it. Meanwhile, their health and that of their families will be in jeopardy.

The Fight Isn’t Over Yet

The current national conversation about immigration reform largely fails to recognize the contributions that immigrant women make to their families, communities, and our nation’s economy, or the vital need for them to be able to access health care. The good news is that there is a crucial window of opportunity to influence the nation’s discourse and policies on immigration reform. As the House of Representatives considers several proposals for immigration reform, it is critical that policymakers hear from women (immigrant and citizen alike) who believe that access to health care is a human right and should not be restricted simply because of a person’s birthplace.

If you believe that immigrant women are the backbone of their families and their communities, please stand with the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights’ efforts to ensure they get the health care they need. Join our Congressional postcard campaign, “I’m Fighting #4immigrantwomen,” athttp://nciwr.org/campaigns/im_fighting_for. Learn more about how you can support immigrant women’s health and rights, by following us online (www.nciwr.org) or on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/NCIWR). After all, would you want your mother or sister to wait 15 years to see their doctor?


i. National Immigration Law Center Website. “Immigrants and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).” Los Angeles, CA: National Immigration Law Center. March 2013. Retrieved September 15, 2013 fromhttp://nilc.org/immigrantshcr.html.

ii. Hassedt K. “Toward Equity and Access: Removing Legal Barriers to Health Insurance     Coverage for Immigrants.” Guttmacher Policy Review Winter 2013; 16:2-8. Retrieved October   1, 2013 fromhttp://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/gpr/16/1/gpr160102.html.

iii.  National Immigration Law Center Website. “The Senate Immigration Reform Bill (S.744) What’s Good, What’s Bad.” Los Angeles, CA: National Immigration Law Center. July 11, 2013. Retrieved September 15, 2013 from http://nilc.org/s744goodbadtable.html.

iv.  National Immigration Law Center Website. “The Senate Immigration Reform Bill (S.744) What’s Good, What’s Bad.” Los Angeles, CA: National Immigration Law Center. July 11, 2013. Retrieved September 15, 2013 from http://nilc.org/s744goodbadtable.html.

v.  Sen. Mazie Hirono, Press Release: Hirono Introduces Amendment to Immigration Bill to Fix Provisions that Unfairly Penalize Immigrant Taxpayers, Washington, D.C.: US Senate, June 18, 2013. Available online at: http://www.hirono.senate.gov/press-releases/hirono-introduces-amendment-… last visited September 15, 2013.