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.

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.

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!

#KeepItConfidential

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

Under a landmark California bill passed last year, individuals covered under another person’s insurance policy will soon be able to seek sensitive services such as birth control, STD tests, and mental health services, without worrying about the disclosure of these services to the policyholder. This person is usually a parent or spouse, a fact which often prevents people from using their insurance to get the medical care they need. Going into effect January 1, 2014, the Confidential Health Information Act (SB 138) closes a loophole in California law, where insurance plans unintentionally violate patients’ confidentiality by sending information about the services received home to the policyholder.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and is thus a particularly important time to be focusing on confidentiality of medical and mental health services. In addition to the common problem of young people heading to a free clinic for routine reproductive care and claiming no insurance (as many of my friends did instead of admitting to their parents that they needed care), this law will have a profound effect on survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and gender-based violence. Maintaining confidentiality is crucial for survivors of assault to feel comfortable and empowered to access the physical and psychological services they need, without fear of stigma, forced disclosure, or cruel yet common reactions, such as victim-blaming.

For this new law to have the wide-reaching impact advocates desire, we must create a smooth system for patients to request confidentiality, educate patients across the state that they have the option to request confidentiality, and train providers in how to effectively implement this system in service provision. The smoother the implementation of this bill, the more likely the new law will be used as a model for patient confidentiality of sensitive services around the nation.  I’m proud that California is making real strides to #keepitconfidential for all patients.

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.

As a LSRJ alum, I care about women winning

Kate Baxter-Kauf, Guest Blogger, (’11, University of Minnesota Law School)

Like most alumni members of the LSRJ, I was active during law school in my chapter, serving as the co-treasurer for two law school years and going to meetings all three, and helping to organize fund raisers, educational events, and visiting speakers (though perhaps not as active as two of our co-presidents during my law school, both of whom LSRJ has profiled!). Also like most alumni members of the LSRJ, I’m committed to fostering legal expertise and support for the realization of reproductive justice. During law school, my involvement with LSRJ made the method through which I supported these goals clear —my LSRJ chapter had a full and vibrant schedule of ways to learn and get involved.

But since graduating from law school, I’ve been less sure how to support reproductive justice in more tangible ways than being informed and following smart activists on Twitter. I work in private practice; my job doesn’t involve non-profit or advocacy work on a day to day basis. There does not seem to be much of a need for pro bono direct legal services for those seeking abortions in my area—I looked, for example, as to whether minors requiring a judicial bypass proceeding needed counsel in Minnesota, where I live, but my research and discussion with providers indicated that guardians at litem and not lawyers were the ordinary volunteers. Every pro-choice organization needs donations and holds events, and I’ve found a few I especially like, especially those that directly fund abortions for people who can’t afford them.

Over the past year I have found a different opportunity to participate in the movement through an organization called womenwinning. The organization recruits, trains, and helps pro-choice women candidates get elected and the events it puts on directly support this mission—I went to a house party that discussed essential traits of successful global leaders in the context of women in the workplace with Dr. Annmarie Neal that was fantastic, and last year’s annual luncheon with former Senator Olympia Snowe was both inspiring and informative about the ongoing need for pro-choice women officials across the ideological spectrum. Next week, I’ll be attending my second annual Wine, Chocolate & Choice event, which is specifically designed to aid young pro-choice women like myself in fostering the next generation of reproductive rights advocates.

If you’re in Minneapolis next week and a supporter of LSRJ, you should join me. If you’re not, I highly encourage you—in addition to supporting LSRJ, supporting and funding direct reproductive rights services, and other events—to seek out these types of organizations. Finding a way to elect pro-choice women candidates to all levels of public office is a concrete step in the fight for reproductive rights and justice.

Note from the LSRJ national office – as a 501(c)(3) organization, we do not support or oppose any candidate running for public office. Any LSRJ alum or member affiliating with WomenWinning is doing so as a private individual.

Roe v. Wade: A Reminder That We Deserve More

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

I first learned about Roe v. Wade as an eager, nerdy, middle school student. No, it was definitely not covered in my history classes and it was barely discussed in my constitutional law class. I learned about it because my Latina mother introduced me to the world of feminism and feminist heroes at a young age. When I first learned about Roe, I was amazed and thought it was the best thing that ever happened to the women’s movement.  As each anniversary passes, I’m less amazed and more circumspect about the meaning of Roe. I know now that we have a long way to go before we achieve full equality and justice for all women, including transgender men. Roe is not the pinnacle of our movement, but it is a starting point.

Since Roe, it’s relevance to women’s lives has become somewhat diminished due to relentless political assaults.  In 1976, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which is an almost total ban on abortion coverage for women who qualify and are enrolled in Medicaid, making abortion inaccessible in practice for low income women of color.  It has continuously been reauthorized in each federal budget.  Lack of insurance coverage for abortion care isn’t the only barrier for many women.  Several states have passed laws to “regulate” abortion care, again effectively making it inaccessible – take for instance TRAP regulations and laws pertaining to misoprostol.  Then, we have issues of accessing care – many women live in areas of the country where there are no abortion providers and they do not have the means to travel to the closest abortion provider,sometimes hours away. And’s let not forget about Casey and the “undue burden” standard.

Finally, transgender men who may need abortion care may not receive the care they need because of the lack of culturally competent providers in general for this community, let alone providers who are trained and licensed in providing abortion care.  Not to mention the fact that transgender and gender non-conforming persons also face high rates of discrimination and violence, even in healthcare settings.   

So yes, let’s celebrate Roe v. Wade, but the next day we need to get back to work.   

Reflections on Roe: Out of Clinic Violence and Ash Rises a Reproductive Justice Advocate.

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

McCullen v. Coakley, the case that could decide the constitutionality of all abortion clinic buffer zones, was heard by the Supreme Court less than two weeks before the forty-first anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The plaintiff was well chosen, a “grandmother” figure not immediately fitting the image of intimidation and violence that the zone around the Boston clinic was set up to protect entrants from.  Last year the Massachusetts buffer zone was upheld by the First Circuit Court as a way to mitigate “the persistence of a disorderly and threatening climate at facility entrances.”

Perhaps the plaintiff herself believes that she poses no risk to the women she encounters, but within the larger anti-choice/pro-choice movement she is allied with those who do. Boston knows well the devastation of clinic violence where, in 1994, two health workers were brutally murdered while serving their clients.

My own experience as a health worker was born out of the ashes of a local clinic – I was inspired to join the health center’s staff shortly after its offices were firebombed.  The subsequent arson investigation remains open. Clinic violence is a daily reality for those of us trying to ensure that the rights granted by Roe remain accessible to women of all ages and incomes.

Thirty-five feet is all that stands between a peaceful protest and a clinic blockade.  Even with the buffer zone, insults, photographing, and threats of religious retribution create a culture of intimidation whether the conservatives on the Court recognize it as such or not.  So on this anniversary of Roe, remember those who work behind bullet-proof glass, and their clients: women and men brave enough to make a decision for themselves and their families despite anti-choice protesters subjecting them to religious rhetoric, hateful name calling and other forms of aggression.

I’m in the 78%. Taking Back the Narrative: Asian American and Pacific Islanders DO Support Abortion.

Christine Poquiz, Resident Blogger (’12, University of California, Davis School of Law)

Working as a reproductive justice fellow at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), we’re often combating myths (model minority anyone?) and misconceptions around the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.  AAPI women, activists, and organizers are speaking up, fighting back, and recreating the narrative around our community. A few months ago the hashtag #notyourasiansidekick took off on twitter to talk about the struggles that Asian American women face and AAPI feminism. The response to this hashtag was overwhelming and showed how many young AAPI women wanted a forum to talk about these issues. [click here to see the follow-up Google Hangout with NAPAWF’s executive director, Miriam Yeung]

On this 41st anniversary of the landmark decision Roe v. Wade, there are misconceptions that AAPI women aren’t affected by attacks on abortion rights. However, bans against public insurance coverage of abortion, like the Hyde Amendment, cause great harm for subpopulations of the AAPI community who depend on public insurance like Medicaid. Furthermore there is evidence that AAPI women use birth control at lower rates than the general public, have high rates of unintended pregnancies and utilize abortion services at higher rates. On top of all that, some legislators are using stereotypes about Asian American women to pass sex selective abortion bans that encourage racial stereotyping of AAPI women in the doctor’s office and could possibly even cause doctors to deny care to women in our community. AAPI women are significantly affected by attacks on abortion access.

The AAPI community needs to shape the conversation about us, or other people will do it instead. One traditional perception about the AAPI community is that we’re conservative in our values. However, from the National Asian American Survey (NAAS), which conducted opinion polling on over 6,000 AAPIs, showed that the AAPI community is progressive in our values. During this celebration of Roe, it’s crucial to highlight that 78% of AAPIs support some form of legal abortion. Furthermore, 69% of AAPIs believe that the government should stay out women’s personal decision-making.

Here at NAPAWF, we’re big proponents for data disaggregation, and the 78% is not reflective of each AAPI subpopulation. For example, the traditionally Catholic Filipino community is less supportive of legal abortion than the rest of the AAPI community. But even among the Filipino community, over 50% support some form of legal abortion. Moreover, there are higher rates of “I don’t know” within the Vietnamese and Hmong community, which shows advocates like us that there needs to be more culturally competent education around this issue for these communities.

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Most importantly, these top line numbers break the notion that AAPIs don’t support abortion. This year, NAPAWF is uplifting these numbers to show that AAPIs are supportive of abortion and a woman’s personal decision making. Our members, community leaders, and elected officials are taking part in a photo campaign saying that they’re part of the 78% and that they support Roe.

We’re working on changing the narrative. Send in your photo saying you’re part of the 78% today.