Abortion rights, women’s rights: A major victory

Lady justice

The government has finally been ushered out of the exam room.

In a definitive step protecting women and their very private decision-making, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth District on December 22 permanently blocked a 2011 North Carolina law that created huge physical and emotional trauma for women seeking abortions. Not to mention trampling on doctor-patient relationships and the rights of physicians themselves to have rational conversations with their patients.

Those fighting the extremely punitive law included the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood and others

The law required providers to show an ultrasound and describe what’s on the screen. That is certainly right and proper if patient and provider so choose. But suppose the woman chooses otherwise? The law allowed her to close her eyes and cover her ears, but said the provider still had to go through this narration, regardless of circumstances. Suppose this pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, or there were serious health risks or fetal anomalies — the woman still had to cover her eyes and ears, perhaps singing “La, la, la, la…” to drown out the narrative. Is there any conceivable way in which any of this makes sense?

Fortunately, the Fourth District Court of Appeals thought not.

What has been so appalling about the evolution of this law and the political fight to keep it in effect is the total absence of empathy or concern for women. The same is true for literally hundreds of other state laws still on the books that are designed to shame or coerce women out of having abortions. Public outcry is raised about “protecting the fetus,” often by politicians and others whose concern for that fetus ends as soon as it becomes an unwanted child. With these laws, sanity, good medical practice and women’s rights go out the window. And who loses? The woman. Particularly if she is poor, or disempowered and thus can’t travel to somewhere safe and free from harrassment.

None of us, whatever our politics, want to see women’s lives made worse. None of us really want to see children brought into the world to suffer, other children forced to bear babies who are the result of personal tragedy, or families plunged into chaos and despair. Most of us credit women with having perfectly good brains and don’t want to see them denied use of their brains or control of their bodies. But these are the results of punitive abortion restrictions. At least this one punitive law is now gone, a holiday gift to us all.

Thank you, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth District.

 

Vessel: New documentary, powerful voice

Working with Women on Waves – the organization determined to make safe abortion available around the globe – is not for the faint of heart.

Vessel, a new documentary currently being shown around the U.S., traces the progress of Women on Waves from its beginning more than a decade ago and through its now sister organization Women on the Web. That progress winds through angry protest mobs pushing, shoving, shouting “Murderer!” “Go Away!” and worse, and throwing eggs (and worse.) The women of WoW, mild-mannered though they may appear, retaliate by cutting the ropes of police boats attempting to tow them away, going nose-to-nose with burly guys on protest lines and breaking the seals of locks placed on their supply cabinets.

Meanwhile, the movement steadily grows.

Women on Waves was founded in 1999 by Rebecca Gomperts, MD, MPP, who was trained in both medicine and visual arts in her native Amsterdam, the Netherlands. (It doesn’t hurt, for the film, that Gomperts is also attractive, articulate in several languages and highly photogenic.) As a young Ob/Gyn Gomperts traveled – one might say trained – with the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior as its doctor and an environmental activist. While sailing in South America she was struck by the numbers of women suffering from lack of access to reproductive health services and safe, legal abortions – and inspired by their stories to start Women on Waves.

The group built a clinic-in-a-box, loaded it onto a ship and sailed into such unwelcoming ports as Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Poland and eventually scattered cities around Africa, Central and South America. The strategy was to anchor 12 miles offshore in international waters, where local authorities had no jurisdiction. Local authorities were seldom pleased. Gomperts was often on land, hanging banners announcing the phone number for pregnant women to call, drumming up press – usually unfriendly press – agitating the authorities and spreading the word, smiling pleasantly in the face of incredibly hostile opposition.

Once the medical abortion procedure using misoprostol became widely available and safe, if used as directed, Women on the Web began its own ambitious program of making the procedure available through the internet. And safe abortion slowly gained through changing laws.

The movement has one simple goal: to reduce the number of deaths from unsafe abortion. It is the same goal that motivates every other reproductive justice organization, from the Center for Reproductive Rights to ACCESS: Women’s Health Justice to NARAL Pro-Choice America.

But the film ends with a litany of places where poor women (if you’ve got money, you can manage to find a safe abortion somewhere) remain at risk for lack of access to safe abortion, notably including much of the U.S. Watching it in the U.S., where abortion has been legal since 1973, and being reminded again that women here are suffering and dying today, is sobering, and indescribably sad.

The sadness comes from hearing the same, tragic stories that first inspired Rebecca Gompers, and some years ago inspired this writer to create the book you see at the right. They come through the voices in the film:

“I’m scared to death.”

“I tried hitting myself in the stomach…”

“My family would disown me if they found out.”

“Can you help me?”

How can we be ignoring these voices in the United States today?

 

 

 

Study the fetus before abortion: Oklahoma enacts tough new laws

It is still legal to get an abortion in Oklahoma. But first, you’ve got to look at the ultrasound, listen to some technician describe whether the fetus has indications of arms and legs and get your doctor to report on whether or not there is any cardiac activity. If you were not suffering pain and distress from an unwanted &/or unmanageable pregnancy before all this, you will doubtless suffer during and after. Then, maybe the State of Oklahoma will let you resume control of your own body.

No one is more vulnerable than a child in the womb,” said state Sen. Steve Russell, R-Oklahoma City. “They have no voice except ours.”

Well, I beg to differ with the good senator. Wonder what gender Steve Russell is? A fetus is not a child. Fetuses have voices; their voices belong to the women in whose bodies they reside. Exactly as the voices of a group of ocular cells belong to a woman considering eye surgery. It is nobody’s business but the woman’s whether a group of cells — detectable signs of appendages and heartbeats notwithstanding — should appropriately remain within her body until they might become a baby. It should not be my business to tell Steve Russell, or anybody else, how much he has to study pictures of spermatozoa before he undergoes a vasectomy, which I hope… well, maybe this analogy should not go any farther.

The Oklahoma Senate voted Tuesday to override Gov. Brad Henry‘s veto of two abortion bills, including one that an abortion-rights group has said would be among the nation’s strictest measures against the procedure.

The narrow override votes in the Republican-controlled Senate came a day after the state House voted overwhelmingly to do the same, meaning the bills became law immediately. The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights quickly filed a lawsuit, however, seeking to block enforcement of one of the statutes.

It requires women to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before getting an abortion. The person who performs the ultrasound must describe the dimensions of the fetus, whether arms, legs and internal organs are visible and whether the physician can detect cardiac activity. He or she must also turn a screen depicting the images toward the woman so she can see them.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has said the ultrasound requirement intrudes upon a patient’s privacy and forces a woman to hear information that may not be relevant to her medical care. The group also believes it could interfere with the physician-patient relationship by compelling doctors to deliver unwanted speech.

“The constitutional issues are very serious,” said Jennifer Mondino, an attorney for the group. Oklahoma County District Judge Noma Gurich set a hearing Monday on the organization’s request for a temporary restraining order.

The other abortion measure overridden by the Senate prohibits pregnant women from seeking damages if physicians withhold information or provide inaccurate information about their pregnancy. Supporters of that measure have said it is an attempt to keep pregnant women from discriminating against fetuses with disabilities. Mondino said the group’s lawsuit does not seek to block enforcement of that law.

Oklahoma now officially joins Georgia, Ohio and an appallingly growing number of other states enacting, or seeking to enact legislation that is harsh, punitive and grossly inappropriate for women. Pregnant or not, women in the U.S. are entitled to the control of their own bodies. At least, for now. If the (largely white male) opponents of abortion get what they want, American women will be sent back to the dark ages of back-alley abortions.

Oklahoma enacts tough new abortion laws.