Inspiring.Motivating.Invigorating.These are all words that can be used to describe the vibe at Day 1 of the 2010 Leadership Institute.With a national cast of law students from a variety of backgrounds but with a common interest, the enthusiasm for reproductive justice was palpable.Though many of us may not have been ready to be back in the law school environment (summer’s not over yet!), the atmosphere at George Washington University School of Law was full of promise, excitement, and opportunity.
After an exciting round of icebreaking Bingo to get a chance to know more about the other student leaders in the room, LSRJ National Office staff members Mariko Miki and Jill Adams set a great tone for the day with an overview of LSRJ and a primer of the fundamental elements of reproductive justice.Both sessions provided attendees with a common framework to engage in the variety of afternoon sessions.During lunch, several caucuses on issues such as fundraising, new chapters, law students of color, and ideologically or religiously conservative campuses allowed members to dig deep into specific issues facing their chapters and collaborate on creative solutions.Attendees were presented with opportunities to improve their leadership skills and discover tools to engage and recruit students on their campus through workshops on coalition building, effective messaging, and blogging techniques. (more…)
The beginning of my second year of law school also marks the beginning of my search for a job for the summer after my second year of law school. Because of the uncertainty of the economy, job searching isn’t exactly the happiest prospect. But, in some respects, I am very fortunate – if I manage to find a job I am protected from employment discrimination based on my gender.
Members of the LGBT community aren’t so lucky. Did you know that in 29 states it is still legal to fire someone based on his or her sexual orientation, and in 38 states, it is still legal to fire someone for being transgender? As an RJ advocate and as a human being, I find that appalling.
That’s why I support the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Passing ENDA would be a huge step toward providing equal protection to all American citizens – a core guarantee of the Constitution. It would also ensure that, in this uncertain economic climate, American’s wouldn’t have to worry about losing their jobs just because of who they are.
The reproductive rights movement was founded by women and originally fought for issues men ignored, like a woman’s right to determine the timing and spacing of her children.Reproductive justice, however, has a greatly expanded focus and fights not just for the right not to have children, but also the right to have children, and to parent the children we have.RJ strives for healthy and empowered communities and, thus, inherently involves both sexes.In spite of this expansion, because the movement has traditionally been understood as a woman’s issue, the fight has still largely been left to women. The RJ community has thoroughly discussed this dilemma and has hypothesized how best to frame the issues so that men better understand the implications of ignoring reproductive justice.
We are armed with information that seems like it should be inflammatory to the stereotypical male.For example, recent scientific studies have shown that exposure to specific chemicals causes the feminization of male fetuses and infant boys.This means that exposure to phthalates, bisphenol-A, or any other chemical that mimics estrogen can decrease penis size, androgenital length, and sperm count, in addition to other possible physical deformities, like the urethra developing at the base of the penis rather than the tip.All of these facts hit men where they are, stereotypically, the most sensitive: their “masculinity.”Those in the reproductive justice community who have been working to reduce environmental reproductive toxins viewed this information primarily as more evidence of harm, but secondarily as a method for getting men interested and involved.What can convince men more than threats to their virility?
At Comic Con this year, “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane revealed that Fox would not be airing an episode of the new season focused on abortion.As previous references to abortion on the show have been in line with the taste and sophistication that we have come to expect from Family Guy (read: sarcasm), we probably aren’t missing much. However, the uproar that has been raised about Fox’s censorship has brought has called attention to the relative dearth of portrayals of abortion in the media. The website for a documentary called “The Abortion Diaries” has a by-no-means comprehensive list of choice stories in U.S. media. Especially in recent years, it seems that a show will either have a character consider an abortion then back out at the last minute (sometimes with an accompanying miscarriage to avoid actually having a baby on the show), or they will have the abortion and have a tremendous amount of guilt over this procedure. In the most extreme example, Jack and Bobby had a character get an abortion, and promptly die in a car accident.
For one of the best representations of choice on television, however, prospective viewers should watch one of the first. Maude, a spinoff of Norman Lear’s All in the Family, was the first primetime TV show to have the main character choose to have an abortion. The episode Maude’s Dilemma (conveniently available online) illustrates what choice was like for women before 37 years of guilt were forced down our throats. Maude wants to make the decision that is best for her family and herself. They ultimately decide that they don’t want to be parents of a teenager when they turn 60.
When CBS broadcast the episode in 1972, two affiliates decided not to run the episode, and 32 were pressured to not air the rerun the following summer. There were also 24,000 protest letters mailed in response to the two airings. But the network still decided to air the episode. Which leaves the question, 37 years later, why is the question being stifled?
My support of the right of women to obtain abortions has always sprung from my belief that women (and people in general) should have the utmost control over what happens to their bodies. This belief has always made my stance on abortion easy to delineate: for me, no one should be able to control a woman’s body for the benefit of a potential human being who has not yet come into living being. However, I must admit that the issue of pre-implantation trait selection threw me for a loop. Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) already exists that allows us to screen for genetic diseases and even to choose the sex of an embryo before implantation in the uterus; it does not seem far-fetched to assume that we may soon have technology that will allow us to choose for other traits in our future children, such as height, skin color, or perhaps even sexual orientation. While many may say that technology will not be advanced enough to control for such traits until far into the future, it is still an interesting thought experiment to think about how far a woman’s right to choose extends; does the right to choose only encompass a woman’s right to determine if and when she has a child, or does it also encompass a woman’s right to choose, as much as is scientifically possible, what type of child she has? While selecting against embryos and fetuses that have major genetic disorders is relatively uncontested (but even here, there is no consensus), is it appropriate for women to be able to choose what non-essential traits their child has? If a woman really wants a light skinned, brown eyed, six-foot tall male child, and technology is available that would enable her to select for those traits, does supporting reproductive choice mean we must support her decision to have precisely that kind of child? There are so many arguments for and against this, and there is such potential for abuse of this technology, that I anticipate my ambivalent stance on this issue to continue for quite a while.
Ever since I first learned about “conscience clauses,” which allow medical providers to refuse to provide medical treatment or referrals based on their own personal beliefs, they have fascinated me. I find pharmacist refusal clauses to be particularly interesting. While I whole-heartedly support each and every person’s right follow his or her conscience, I, as an RJ advocate, can’t help but notice that one person’s conscientious refusal is another person’s barrier to obtaining a necessary reproductive health service (for example, emergency contraception). In rural communities, which may only have one pharmacy or pharmacist, a conscientious refusal can altogether prevent women from obtaining the health care services they need. I find myself thinking, “you are a pharmacist, dispensing prescriptions and behind-the-counter medication is your job – so do your job.” Nonetheless, I am uncomfortable compelling individuals to perform an action merely because that action is a commonly accepted practice in the profession.
A perfect case-in-point is the emerging “Refuse to Sign” campaign. Begun by clergy in Ohio, the Refuse to Sign Campaign seeks “the separation of church and state by advocating equal marriage rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, by encouraging faith communities, and their leaders, not to sign state-issued marriage licenses.” Some religious leaders are merely refusing to sign the licenses; some are refusing to perform marriage ceremonies at all. Following my pharmacist refusal logic, I should think that performing marriage ceremonies is the clergy’s job, and they should do it. But I don’t. I realize that the analogy isn’t a perfect fit, but it raises some interesting questions for me. Can I both support a pastor’s right to refuse to marry people and oppose a pharmacist’s right to refuse to dispense prescriptions? Or does support of one logically require support of the other?
President Obama has made health care reform a top priority, which is welcome news to millions of un- or under-insured Americans. Under the current system, women who purchase their own coverage already pay more then men – sometimes up to 50% more. As justification for the higher rates, insurers cite the fact that women tend to use more heath care, especially during their childbearing years. However, the rate disparity between women and men doesn’t disappear in insurance plans which do not cover maternity care. Healthcare reform holds the promise of more equitable pricing of insurance for men and women.
Health insurance is only as good as the services it covers, and having health insurance that doesn’t cover the services you need is tantamount to having no health insurance at all. While healthcare reform is essential, reform at the expense of women’s health is too high a price to pay. In addition to expanding the number of people who have health insurance, lawmakers should ensure that reform includes the healthcare services Americans need. In the case of American women, that need is comprehensive reproductive healthcare, including abortion coverage. Comprehensive health care reform should be just that – comprehensive.
I have been interning at LSRJ for over a month now, and it has been a great learning experience, even though much of what I have learned makes me simultaneously sick to my stomach and incredulous that such egregious violations of human rights can still go on in this day and age. I attended LSRJ’s first Summer Networking Lunch last week at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC), a legal services and advocacy organization that, as the name implies, works with incarcerated parents, with an emphasis on prisoners from Communities of Color and low-income communities. Most of us are aware that in the U.S., incarceration disproportionately impacts People of Color, the poor, and other marginalized populations. However, it was not until this Networking Lunch that I began to more fully realize that the harms done by incarceration unjustly impacts, not just the individuals who are imprisoned – many of whom are sentenced for non-violent drug offenses – but also their families and communities. Those sentenced to prison are taken well outside of their communities – presumably to take them away from the “influences” that made them turn to crime in the first place – where they are separated from their loved ones and are unable to maintain ties to their community that, if preserved, would perhaps make reintegration into society much more successful. This is especially hard for prisoners with children; even though a great many of those incarcerated are imprisoned for non-violent drug offenses, incarcerated parents are regularly disallowed from even basic physical contact with their children for more than a year. They also have very little time to even see their children, as those looking after their kids must take time off of work and expend resources they probably don’t have to bring the children to the prison, where there is no real place for kids to be comfortably. Families, and therefore the community at large, are further ripped apart if family members of prisoners (often grandparents of those incarcerated) who are perfectly able and willing to take care of these kids are disallowed from doing so because of laws that restrict the placement of children with ex-felons – even if the felonies were for crimes completely unrelated to children and were non-violent and occurred many years ago. Though it might seem reasonable at first to disallow placement of children with felons, in many cases, it seems that placing children with family members who love them and their incarcerated parents, who will work to keep the family together and who are invested in the success of these kids, is much better than taking children completely out of their community and placing them in homes at great distance from all of their social ties, and often into communities that in no way resemble the ones from which they came. In this way, many communities not only lose members due to incarceration, but also lose a lot of bright kids due to the repercussions of the incarceration of their parents – and this loss of human capital is often permanent.
Three years later, the elusive Connie Criminal is still coming to me for legal advice. Patti Plaintiff and Don Defendant are up to their old tricks. Bob’s still buying. Sam’s still selling. The Land of Law School Make-Believe is getting old.
Unsurprisingly, then, my summer internship—a Law Students for Reproductive Justice-sponsored placement at the National Network of Abortion Funds in Boston—is a welcome dose of reality, a chance to put some of what I’ve learned in the classroom to work in the field. Where it matters. To real people.
The Network, which raises money to help women finance abortions, is comprised of over 100 individual member funds in over 40 states and four different countries. Through its “Hyde: 30 Years is Enough!” campaign, it works to reduce the economic barriers that impede women’s access to safe, legal abortions.
What this means for me, practically-speaking, is that in a whirlwind 10 weeks at the Network, I’ll have conducted legal research for two separate member funds. I’ll have investigated constructive steps to ensure public funding for abortion in the event the Hyde Amendment (a provision which restricts federal Medicaid funding for abortion in all but a very limited number of circumstances) is repealed. I’ll have analyzed states’ definitions of “medically necessary” in Medicaid statutes and administrative codes. I’ll have tracked health reform legislation. I’ll have attended the Network’s annual summit in Chicago—and a Network-organized vigil for the slain Dr. George Tiller. I’ll have defended and touted the importance of repro justice work in lengthy dialogs with family and friends (at least a handful of whom are vehemently conservative and anti-choice and who, probably without intending to, managed to help me better define and articulate my values). I’ll have piqued my husband’s interest in the cause. I’ll have done most of this to a steady backdrop of phone calls from women whose lives and futures depend on private funding for abortion and referrals from my Network co-workers to a local fund which might be able to subsidize their expenses and affect their reality dramatically for the better.
Because the reality is this: sans private funding, many of the women who turn to the Network for support would be forced to either give birth to unwanted children, incurring expenses incident to prenatal care, labor and delivery (to say nothing for the costs of childcare), and often risking their health in the process.They might have to rely on unlicensed, “underground” providers if they can find one—or themselves, self-terminating pregnancies. The implications on women’s health—indeed, women’s lives!— are huge. Absent this private funding, some women’s only real “choice” is between bad and worse.
Reality bites—and yet I think it’s tremendously dangerous to lose sight of it. My internship’s been invaluable in helping me stay focused: focused on what brought me to law school, focused on what keeps me there, and focused on affecting real change for real people post-graduation.
These days it seems like all I hear about are the twin crises of budget and healthcare, so I wasn’t surprised when one of my very first assignments this summer at LSRJ was to research religious hospitals and their funding. What did surprise me, however, was what I learned about the disparate standards of care between secular and religious healthcare facilities.
Because Catholic hospitals receive so much public funding and see so many patients, one might assume that the standard of care in a Catholic hospital is comparable to the standard of care in a secular hospital. Unfortunately, this assumption may not be true.
Some patients treated in Catholic hospitals – women in particular – may not be receiving reproductive healthcare considered basic and essential by secular medical facilities. That is because Catholic healthcare providers are governed by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, with which all Catholic health care providers are obligated to comply (Directive 5).
Compassionate and understanding care should be given to a person who is the victim of sexual assault. Health care providers should cooperate with law enforcement officials and offer the person psychological and spiritual support as well as accurate medical information. A female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault. If, after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has occurred already, she may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization. It is not permissible, however, to initiate or to recommend treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum.
Since emergency contraception is most effective in the first 72 hours, a healthcare provider’s refusal to provide comprehensive treatment can further traumatize survivors of rape and sexual assault by forcing them to leave the hospital and attempt to obtain EC elsewhere.
Catholic hospitals do provide a tremendous amount of care in rural and impoverished communities – indeed, they are often the only hospital in such communities. The question remains, however, whether funding institutions that refuse to provide the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare is really the best use of our scarce federal Medicaid and Medicare dollars.