On Sunday John McCain came onto Fox news and urged Republicans to leave abortion discussions “alone.” He stated that the Republican party needs to ‘have a bigger tent’ remarking: “There is no doubt whatsoever that the demographics are not on our side.” This was proved this election when extreme pro-life candidates like Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana, both of whom made offensive remarks when discussing rape exemptions, were defeated by Democrats. When Fox host Chris Wallace asked McCain if that meant he would support “freedom of choice” he stated that “As far as young women are concerned, absolutely, I don’t think anybody like me — I can state my position on abortion but, other than that, leave the issue alone…”
Yesterday The Irish Times reported on the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, who was denied a potentially lifesaving abortion, which she requested after being told by physicians she was having a miscarriage and that her fetus had no chance of survival. The 31 year old dentist was 17 weeks pregnant when she sought treatment at University Hospital Galway on Oct. 21, complaining of severe back pain. According to her husband Praveen Halappanavar, she was told that it would be illegal to abort while the fetus’s heart was still beating: “The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Although Savita [a Hindu] replied that she was ‘neither Irish nor Catholic’ they said there was nothing they could do.
Unfortunately, the doctor’s hands were tied. As the New York Times reported:
“In 1992, the Irish Supreme Court ruled that abortion was permissible in cases where there was a “real and substantial risk” to the life of a pregnant woman — including the possibility of suicide. But 20 years later, the Irish government has still not passed a law to this effect.”
This tragedy has already sparked debate over abortion laws in Ireland. Thousands of protesters have marched in Belfast, London, Dublin, Cork and Galway, hoping to force the Irish government to stop dragging their feet on this important issue. For people living in the US, Halappanavar’s death illustrates the frightening reality we face if legislation protecting women’s right to choose is reversed.
The Prison Birth Project (PBP) is a reproductive justice organization providing support, education, advocacy, and activism training to women at the intersection of the criminal justice system and motherhood. As their website points out, in prison, 4-7% of women are pregnant, the same percentage as in the wider population; 85% are mothers, and 25% were pregnant upon arrest or gave birth in the previous year.
On Friday November 26th, I was among over a hundred people who gathered at the First Churches in Northampton for the PBP’s Annual Fall Fundraiser Celebration. Staff and members of the organization gave moving testimonies while the audience enjoyed a gourmet meal sourced from donations from local farms. Marcella Jayne, a facilitator for PBP’s Mothers Among Us program (a support group created for incarcerated mothers to explore the effects of oppression in their lives) spoke out about her own experiences with the penal system. She recalled shackles restricting the blood flow to her ankles, swollen from pregnancy, and the mistreatment and humiliation she faced inside a locked facility.
A member shared her bumpy struggle to end the cycle of addiction in her family, and provide her kids with a better life. Full of emotion, she recalled the strength she drew from the Prison Birth Project doula (birth helper), who assisted her as she gave birth while incarcerated. It was a heart wrenching account, but also spoke to hope, sisterhood, and the transformative healing.
Gratitude poured from all over the room. Prison Birth Project Co-Founder Lisa Andrews honored two members and a volunteer doula, providing them with Resiliency Awards. Anna Hendricks the Co-Director of Development, discussed the miracles PBP creates, running 3 programs on the shoestring budget of only 60,000 a year. She pointed out that staff hours are exceeded by volunteer hours.
For more information on the Prison Birth Project, or to get involved go to: www.theprisonbirthproject.org
It had to be brought up here. How could it not be brought up here? After Georgetown University Law student, Sandra Fluke, spoke about the negative impact that the Catholic university’s insurance policies have on women’s access to contraceptives, Rush Limbaugh went too far -even for Rush Limbaugh. Said the conservative radio talk show host about Fluke’s call for substantive access to contraception for GU’s students:
“What does that make her?…It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”
Not only is Limbaugh clearly uninformed about the realities of oral contraceptives, he alters the course of the conversation entirely. The argument moves away from the conflict between a public health issue and the Catholic stance that any contraception is immoral, to an abrasive attack on women’s sexuality altogether. Let us temporarily dismiss the fact that women use The Pill for medical reasons other than the prevention of pregnancy -including the prevention of uterine and ovarian cancers and the regulation of menstrual cycles. Even if one ignores these facts, it would seem that Limbaugh’s argument against allowing women access to birth control punishes female sexuality, while allowing men frequent -if unprotected -sexual intercourse. Women are seen as having “so much sex that they can’t afford contraception,” which effectively suggests that women alone should be responsible for securing contraceptives. This line of thinking suggests that oral contraceptives are the only option for the prevention of pregnancy -essentially leaving men out of the conversation altogether.
This week, contributing writers responded to last week’s anti-abortion article in The Amherst Student. The response article entitled, “The Fundamental Right to Choice,” refutes many claims made in “Stand Up and Defend Life,” asserting first that fetuses -unlike newborn infants and college students -do not have “bodily autonomy and independence.” Therefore, the writers argue, abortion cannot be likened to murder, as was claimed in the anti-abortion article. Their primary assertion was that drawing parallels between the termination of a pregnancy and acts of murder, such as the Holocaust, undermines both the rights and pain of sentient human beings.
The writers also acknowledged that “Stand Up and Defend Life” at least brought a feminist issue to the forefront of Amherst College’s consciousness. The article celebrated the responses to the original article for engaging the campus in an open debate, yet the suggested that perhaps respect for the anti-abortion choice was not necessary:
“…You don’t need to be polite in the face of an argument for your rights to be taken away. You don’t need to respect an opinion if it continues the systemic oppression of every person capable of being pregnant.”
What do you think? How restrained (or n0t) should debates of this nature be?
An article in the February 15th edition of The Amherst Student entitled, “On the Issues: Stand Up and Defend Life,” delineated various arguments against abortion. The article touched upon a range of points -likening the termination of pregnancy to Stalin’s regime, questioning what the world might be like if Steve Job’s mother had terminated her pregnancy, and drawing parallels between the destruction of a bald eagle’s egg and abortion. (Let us here imagine that bald eagles are not in fact endangered species). However, the article rests primarily on the argument that abortion is murder, as the writer “believes that life begins at conception.” Fetuses’ right to life, writes Kaake, necessarily outweighs a woman’s right to her body. The logic suggests the quantity of “lives” produced, and not the quality of lives lived, is most important in determining whether a woman is allowed to terminate a pregnancy. Kaake maintains that abortion is immoral and should be illegal even in cases of incest and rape that result in pregnancy.Kaake argues that abortion, like slavery, casts a darkness over American history and is “one of the greatest evils” this nation has ever seen. (Kaake does not seem to recognize how he essentially posits women as slaves to their own bodies and humanity by forcing them to carry out unwanted pregnancies. )
He suggests a number alternatives to abortion: public high schools could offer child-care services to encourage teenage mothers to carry out pregnancies and support them in raising children once they do; women could give their babies up for adoption, “giving the gift of parenthood to people who have the time, love and resources to care for and raise a baby.” Moreover, he writes, communities could increase their awareness of teenage pregnancy and support of young motherhood.
What is not addressed in the article, however, are any policies the writer might imagine for preventing undesired pregnancies in the first place. Although he seems quite taken with the many alternatives to abortion once a woman learns she is pregnant, he seems unconcerned with preventative measures that could and should be taken to steer women from being forced to make such decisions at all.
Following national outcry over Susan G. Komen’s decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood as an organization under investigation, the foundation refined its criteria for approving grants. In a statement, Komen announced that from now on, funding shall not be cut to recipients for political reasons and that only criminal activity will disqualify organizations from receiving Komen funding. Despite the clarification of its support for Planned Parenthood, one should take note of the massive national support Planned Parenthood received when it appeared that women’s health was under attack. The controversy has called into question the public’s year-round support for women’s reproductive rights, as private donations came flooding in only as Komen funding was cut.
While some decry the Komen decision, others point out the media attention Planned Parenthood has received because of it. Studies have shown that lower income women are more likely than their affluent counterparts to be diagnosed with breast cancer, yet it seems that the former are put at even higher risk with the recent Komen decision to cut its funding to Planned Parenthood for preventative screenings. What do you think?