Posts by Chantal

Why It's Not About Abortion Prevention

Posted on 10.30.2012 by Chantal

I was really excited to read this post on RH Reality Check. The author, Tracy Weitz, reflects on her experiences at a meeting of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstretics (FIGO). In doing so, she touches on a topic that has come up for me several times in reflecting on what I see as the political and strategic failures of the pro-choice movement. I find the framework of abortion prevention to be deeply problematic and misguided.

Talk of abortion prevention is not new. Its been part of the conversation for years, especially among supposedly prochoice policy makers, researchers, and NGOs. If we could just reduce the number of abortions, conservatives and the religious establishment would be forced to get off our backs, right? Wrong.

A recent study out of St. Louis seems to have effectively proven what should be obvious to us all by now: access to free contraceptives reduces the rate of unplanned pregnancies, which in turn reduces the number of abortions. (You shocked yet?) The liberal news media is already lauding this as proof that we were right all along. We hold the key to reducing the incidence of abortion! But Tracy Weitz brilliantly points out the flaw in this logic. Since when are we not okay with the number of abortions?

I believe that all women should have access to free (as in ZERO COST) contraception. But not so that they don't have abortions. I believe that women should have access to free (as in ZERO COST) contraception because women have a right to control their fertility and because women deserve to have a variety of options available to them in order to do so, regardless of socioeconomic status. I also believe that abortion must be one of the options that we offer to women as a means of avoiding unplanned or undesired pregnancy. Yes, free birth control. But also yes, free abortion.

Tracy is spot on when she writes that "not pitting pregnancy prevention against abortion rates may seem like a semantic difference, but it is a critically important one for women." In doing so, I agree that we risk increasing the heavy burden of stigma that so many women are already subjected to. In a time when political and legislative opposition to abortion seems to be stronger than ever, I think we also risk forming an unintentional and dangerous alliance with those who seek to stop abortion all together.

According to Weitz, 46 million women worldwide have abortions each year. And I'm okay with that.

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Say Nothing. Support the Grand Jury Resisters!

Posted on 10.23.2012 by Chantal

For those of you who haven't been following the story of the grand jury resisters in the Pacific Northwest, here's a quick recap to get you up to speed:

Three individuals, Katherine "Kteeo" Olejnik, Leah-Lynn Plante, and Matt Duran were investigated earlier this month and brought before a grand jury to testify about the activities of Portland anarchists on May Day of this year. The three were allegedly involved in acts of vandalism that took place on May 1st as part of International Workers Day protests. Their homes were raided and personal belonging confiscated. They were subpoenaed to come before the grand jury and testify with the hope that they would incriminate each other or other anarchists who are active in the PNW. All three refused to cooperate and were subsequently put in jail, initially in solitary confinement.

Leah-Lynn Plante released a powerful video statement of her experiences with the grand jury just before she went to jail. You can watch it here. Leah, Matt, and Kteeo have received hundreds of letters of support from fellow anarchists and solidarity actions have popped up all over the country. Unfortunately, some supporters saw Leah's call for support as an opportunity to make inappropriate and objectifying comments about her appearance.

Leah was released last week under circumstances that are as yet unknown. She released this statement after her release. To reiterate, this is a movement for solidarity and struggle, not for celebrity or sex appeal.

Matt and Kteeo are still imprisoned and need our support! Please donate, if you can, send letters, and organize solidarity actions in your city! Leah, Matt, and Kteeo are not the only anarchists who have been targeted. This is just one highly visible case in a coordinated attempt to suppress radical dissent. All prisoners are political prisoners and we cannot tolerate this targeted repression of anarchist communities. Fire to the prisons.

For more information on how you can show your support, see the links below:

Pacific Northwest Grand Jury Defiance

Committee Against Political Repression

Support//Resist Store

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One Small Step for Abortion Equality in the UK

Posted on 10.12.2012 by Chantal

Somedays we could all some good news, right?

The first private (not state-run) abortion clinic in Northern Ireland will open its doors next week. The clinic, owned and operated by Marie Stopes International (think of it as the UK's version of Planned Parenthood), will provide medication abortion procedures up to 9 weeks of pregnancy. Despite the fact that abortion is legal in England, Scotland, and Wales up to 24 weeks gestation, in Northern Ireland abortion is only legal in cases of life endangerment to the woman or permanent physical or mental harm.

The folks at Marie Stopes have allegedly pledged to obey the laws regarding abortion. And even if they don't have much to work with, I'd imagine that the effects will be widespread. Up until this point, women in Northern Ireland who are seeking abortion services have mostly been forced to leave the country.

I can only hope that this the start of a larger effort to expand reproductive health services in the area and to push for fewer restrictions and greater access!

For more info, check out BBC News and Marie Stopes International.

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Black Girl Dangerous, Keeping it Real this Election Season

Posted on 9.22.2012 by Chantal

In case you haven't noticed, it's election season again. A time to be bombarded with meaningless attack ads, useless speeches, and your Facebook friends' obnoxious political ramblings. Thank god I have Mia at Black Girl Dangerous to keep it real and tell it like it is. This post has been circulating for a couple of weeks now but I thought it deserved a share here as well. For me personally, it most aptly describes how I feel about the upcoming election and about electoral politics in general. This blog is also one of my favorites. It's exciting and inspiring to have found an outlet for radical queer women of color on the internet.

Check it out!

Black Girl Dangerous - When the Lesser of Two Evils isn't Enough

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Radfem Resurgence? The Trans-Hating Feminists Next Door

Posted on 8.30.2012 by Chantal

My familiarity with radical feminism started out in college. I might as well out myself now... My senior thesis would have been (if I had actually finished the damn thing) about representations of masculinity socioeconomic class in Larry Flynt's oft-reviled rag, Hustler. Part of my thesis research included an in-depth exploration into feminist critiques of pornography. This was my first real exposure to seminal radfem writers Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon. Now keep in mind, my theoretical roots were already firmly planted in the land of postmodern and queer theory, after all I graduated from college in 2009, not 1979. The whole anti-pornography thing seemed wildly outdated, a relic of a bygone era that I like to call “the bad old days.” Regardless of how I felt about pornography (I happen to be in favor. Are you shocked?), what rankled me the most about radical feminists is the way they treated women. Any woman who disagrees with their incredibly narrow perspective is dismissed as a brainwashed dupe, tricked by the patriarchy into participating in her own oppression. This includes, of course, sex workers (who Dworkin describes as “poor, desperate, homeless, pimped women who were sexually abused as children”), women who watch porn, women who make porn, and really any and all women who have sex with men. Because at its core, radfem is profoundly second-wave, I dismissed it as just another thing that feminist movements got wrong. (You know, along with ignoring race and class and selling out anyone who isn't willing to compromise with those in power.) But what if the bad old days aren't over?

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Lesbian Super PAC? I'm Super Skeptical.

Posted on 7.17.2012 by Chantal

I don't know about yours but my Newsfeed was abuzz last week with news of the recently created, first-of-its-kind, Lesbian Super PAC. What's a super PAC, you ask? Well, PAC stands for Political Action Committee.

According to Wikipedia, a PAC is "any organization in the United States that campaigns for or against political candidates, ballot initiatives or legislation." A super PAC, as I understand it, is unique in that it is allowed to raise and spend an unlimited amount of money on a particular cause or piece of legislation, but not on any individual candidate or political party. Super PACs are allowed to raise money from individual donors as well as corporations.

So what's all the fuss about a lesbian super PAC? I've been asking myself the same thing.

LPAC certainly has the novelty of being the first of its kind. And it's already gotten some fairly hefty celeb backing from the likes of tennis star Billie Jean King and actress Jane Lynch.

The LPAC website describes its commitment to:

Ending discriminatory treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and their families; Sexual and reproductive freedom and women’s access to quality healthcare; And furthering social, racial, and economic justice for all Americans.

And all of these things sound good in theory. But let's not forget that political candidates make the same promises roughly every four years and yet we continue to be confronted with unprecedented economic inequality, racism, structural violence, and a nearly nationwide backlash against reproductive rights. Why should we expect anyone involved in the current political system to behave any differently? There is nothing inherently radical, politically or otherwise, about being a woman or a lesbian. This is why the idea of a female president holds very little appeal for me. The reality of the system that we have is it that it is designed to function in the best interest of the few, at the expense of the many. In 2012, "the few" (call them the 1%, the ruling elite, your boss, whatever) may look a little different than what we're used to. After all, we do have a black president. But we can't let this distract us from the truth. The wealthy rule the world. They always have and, within the current system, they always will.

An article from The Washington Post ironically captures most of my misgivings about LPAC. The article says of LPAC co-founder Laura Ricketts: "it has not escaped her notice that lesbians such as her are in the minority at political events for gay donors, whether it’s a White House reception or a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who hopes to become the first openly lesbian member of the U.S. Senate."

Is this what LPAC is really all about? Increasing the number of lesbians at White House dinners and political fundraisers? Seriously? I can't think of anything less relevant to the average American, gay or straight.

Which brings me to my next concern, LPAC seems to be rallying around some mythical, unified goal that magically encompasses the needs and wants of all lesbians. On their website, they're quick to mention race and economic status as issues that they're eager fight. Yet these distinctions, which actually shape what communities need and want, conveniently disappear in the name of "all lesbians."

At the end of the day, LPAC may not be a bad thing. But to be honest, I just can't imagine it as a force for real change. For one, real, meaningful change isn't going to come from the top. It's going to come from communities who are working together to fight for the causes that are close to them. My fear is the LPAC will amount to nothing more than a lesbian spin on the status quo liberal agenda.

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More Money, More Problems: Contemplating a Career in Healthcare

Posted on 6.29.2012 by Chantal

It seems I've reached an uncomfortable impasse in thinking about my future. Paradoxically, I've never been more sure of my “career path,” yet I'm plagued with more doubts that you can imagine. My mother has been a nurse for over 20 years so I was bit by the medicine bug fairly early. I can remember being maybe 4 or 5 and lining all of my stuffed animals in a row on my bed. My mother would give me Skittles and some small plastic cups and I would dispense to each “patient” a daily dose of medications. If anyone asked, I was doing rounds. Obviously.

For a few years in high school I decided I wanted to be “an obstetrician who doesn't deliver babies because that's gross.” Somehow it didn't occur to me that obstetricians are also gynecologists.

I certainly experimented with other futures. Marine biologist, veterinarian... (Both of which are hilarious if you know me now and are familiar with my utter lack of interest in animals.) I decided at some point in high school that medical school sounded far too daunting and that I should become a poet instead. As if that's somehow an easier career path.

But at the end of the day, I always returned to medicine. In college, I studied social sciences but always with a focus on health. Culture and health. Gender and health. Religion and health. Sexual health. Something inside of me was screaming: YOU WANT TO WORK IN HEALTHCARE! HEALTHCARE! HEALTHCARE! Intentionally or unintentionally, I became very good at ignoring that voice.

Little did I know it, my early high school self was on to something. Flash forward a bunch of years and I'm pretty certain that I want to be an OB/GYN. I've gotten over my childish aversion to birth. In fact, I've become sort of obsessed with it. I feel deep down that it's my calling to serve women. So why become a doctor, you ask? Well, I've been asking myself that same question and it's the primary source of my discomfort. I work with doctors every day and I notice myself physically squirming when they ask that dreaded question, “So what's your plan? Are you going to med school?” “MmmyesI'mplanningoniteventuallymaybe,” I mutter sheepishly.

It's not that I haven't considered other options. I came aboutthisclose to becoming a midwife. In fact, I was accepted to a top program and was supposed to start my nurse midwifery training last year. I chose to hold off for reasons that are much too longwinded to get into here. But I have tremendous respect (and a fair bit of jealousy) for midwives. The truth of the matter is, though, that medicine is a hierarchy. Those two little letters (M and D) bestow power and with power comes freedom (and also responsibility, as I learned from Spiderman). Freedom to work wherever I want in a variety of different settings. Freedom to super duper specialize in some obscure but very important niche that no one's filled yet. Freedom to change my mind somewhere down the line and still have a job to fall back on.

The flip side of course is that I don't believe in hierarchy. I don't believe that doctors are inherently smarter or better at caring for people than nurses. I don't even believe that a person necessarily needs formal medical training to offer quality care. (Fuck yeah, lay midwives!) And above all, I don't believe in a for-profit healthcare system. I don't believe in doctors (or insurance companies!) getting rich off of other people's illness.

And then there are the social aspects of medicine. Being a doctor means being thrust into a position of authority. When doctors speak, people listen. When you put on a white coat, people respect and even fear you.

I'm not trying to say that doctors are bad. That's far from the truth. But they exist and participate in a system that is fatally flawed. The power to heal is a great one. And I believe that doctors individually and as a group owe more to the communities they serve.

How am I supposed to reconcile my passion for medicine, in general, and women's health, in particular, with my anti-authoritian politics? Will a 6 figure salary change my priorities? I can't let that happen. But how to stop it? I don't know. In just about any other circumstance I would argue that it's futile to try to change a system from within. But, honestly, is anyone making any progress in changing the healthcare system from the outside? Just take a look at so-called Obamacare. Sure, more Americans will have access to insurance than before. And hopefully, more people will be able to afford preventative and emergency care when they need it. But at the end of the day, insurance companies are still making the big bucks. And it will always be cheaper for them to deny services than to provide them. This I am sure of.

So what's a lonely anarchist and aspiring physician to do? I'm going to avoid churning out some half-assed answers to satisfy my need to wrap this post up neatly. Because really I have no clue. And I'm more excited and more frightened than ever.

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Free Abortion, No Restrictions

Posted on 6.06.2012 by Chantal

This week I've been thinking about late term abortion* and late term providers. I went back and forth for a while about whether to join my fellow aborto-bloggers in celebrating the life and work of Dr. George Tiller, who was murdered on May 31, 2009. I'll admit that I don't remember where I was or just how I reacted to the news of Dr. Tiller's death. Although I was certainly outraged, I don't think I truly grasped the ramifications of the event until I myself became a member of the abortion providing community. Only then did I begin to understand what it meant on a deeper level. Having worked in a clinic that provides abortion services up to 21 weeks and 6 days of pregnancy (the farthest in my state), I've had a lot of time to think about second trimester abortion. I've heard the fear, the desperation, and above all the shame that so many women facing a second trimester procedure express. I've been the person who has to break the news to a woman younger than myself that she is too far along and that her next best option is a clinic hundreds of miles away. Through all of these experiences, my feelings toward second trimester abortion have been and continue to be complex. But not for the reasons you might think.

I've always been a firm believer that abortion should be available on demand with little to no restriction. And while I consider myself a staunch advocate for greater access to abortion services, I find myself consistently frustrated with the way in which access has been framed by the larger pro-choice community. As Amy alluded to in an earlier post, much of the pro-choice community has been quick to minimize the importance of late term abortion. As most of us have heard by now, the vast majority of abortions in the US, 88% in 2006, occur in the first trimester. But just because second and third trimester abortions are less frequent, doesn't mean they're any less important or in any way less worth fighting for. If we're really pro-choice, I mean, if we really really believe that abortion is one of many acceptable options for a woman faced with an undesired/unplanned pregnancy, then why is it so hard for us to say that out loud? I think we're afraid to tell the truth about late term abortion (It exists! And we support it!) because we're afraid that, if we do, somehow the antis will win. Well, guess what! They're already winning. Because we're letting them.

What comes to mind immediately when thinking about late term abortion is actually something else that's rarely mentioned: cost. In fact, cost is what I think of most when I think of any type of abortion procedure, be it at 8 weeks of pregnancy or 18. In the interest of full disclosure, I believe that abortion should be free. Or at the very least, as close to free as possible. It's the only way to begin to bridge the gaps in access, so many of which are socioeconomic in nature. For those of you who may not be familiar, first trimester abortions are expensive. Second and third trimester abortions are just absurd. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the average cost of a first trimester surgical abortion is $451. Having seen it so many times before, I'm already somewhat desensitized to that number. But then I ask myself, at any given point in the month do I have an extra $500 lying around? I wish. And then I remember the countless women I've talked to who were forced to reschedule their appointments over and over again because they could barely raise the $75 needed just to have an ultrasound. I remember the women who hadn't even thought about the cost because they were still trying to figure out how to get a ride to the clinic or who was going to watch their other children for the duration of their 4-5 hour appointment. Abortion should be free.

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Seriously, American Airlines?! Seriously?!

Posted on 5.26.2012 by Chantal

According to RH Reality Check, a pro-choice advocate was recently barred from catching a connecting flight on American Airlines because she was wearing an "offensive" pro-choice T-shirt. The woman in question was stopped before exiting the plane and told that she would not be allowed to board her next flight until she changed her shirt.

The shirt was gray with the wording, "If I wanted the government in my womb, I'd fuck a senator." I must also mention that when I boarded the plane, I was one of the first groups to board (did not pass by many folks). I was wearing my shawl just loosely around my neck and upon sitting down in my seat the lady next to me, who was already seated, praised me for wearing the shirt.

When I was leaving the plane the captain stepped off with me and told me I should not have been allowed to board the plane in DC and needed to change before boarding my next flight. This conversation led to me missing my connecting flight. I assumed that because I was held up by the captain, they would have called ahead to let the connecting flight know I was in route. Well, upon my hastened arrival at the gate of the connecting flight, it was discovered that they did indeed call ahead but not to hold the flight, only to tell them I needed to change my shirt. I was given a seat on the next flight and told to change shirts.

Will the ridiculousness ever stop?! Feel free to tell the folks at American Airlines that what kind of t-shirt you wear (and what you do with your vagina!) is none of their floppin' bunnies!

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The Latest in Greece's Austerity Plan Targets Pregnant Women

Posted on 5.24.2012 by Chantal

BBC News featured an article this week about the latest in Greece's efforts to revive its crumbling economy. Apparently, hospitals are cracking down on patients who can't pay their bills. The article focuses particularly on pregnant women, at least one of whom reports being told she may not be able to take her baby home from the hospital, if she couldn't pay the bill up front.

Anna lives in a tiny shack with a concrete floor and crumbling walls in Loutsa, a coastal town about an hour's drive from the capital. The entire household, including her husband, father and brother are all dependent on the meagre earnings her mother makes cleaning houses.

The family, who were all employed until the crisis hit, say they have run out of savings and are behind on their rent. Their landlord has given them until the end of the month to move out.

Anna says she doesn't know how she will manage to pay for the baby's vaccinations.

"The hospital asked us for a lot of money and the man at the administration office told us we had to pay the whole amount or they would not let the baby leave the hospital with me," she says.

The hospital, of course, denies Anna's claims. Yet at least one other new mother and a doctor at the hospital in question recounted similar experiences. I have always been a firm believer that health care is a human right. A right that everyone on this planet deserves regardless of socioeconomic status or anything else, for that matter. But as global economies and the machinery of capitalism disintegrates, how do we protect these rights? How do we fight the insurance system as whole, a system which profits off our illnesses and leaves the uninsured (a growing number of people these days) saddled with debt?

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Disgruntled Feminist Workers of the World Unite!

Posted on 5.07.2012 by Chantal

A recent post on Abortion Gang has got me really excited. You know that excitement that can only come from shared misery, disappointment, and rage? Well, if you've ever worked in reproductive health (or if you identify as an anarchist), you probably know what I mean.

The post, entitled "Toxic Work Environments in the Reproductive Rights, Health, and Justice World," explores one of the most taboo subjects in the women's health community. Perhaps even more taboo than abortion itself.

As a former abortion care provider, this post struck a chord with me. I've been lucky enough to surround myself with a group of amazing women (and men) who are fellow advocates of abortion rights and reproductive justice. Many of them are also current or former providers. When we're all in a room together, our conversations buzz with all the usual topics: late-term abortion, our contraception of choice, the financial and emotional struggles that our patients face, and how best to approach those difficult questions that inevitably come up in an options counseling session. (What? That's not what you and your friends chat about over beers?)

But this post touches on something different. As feminists and abortion care providers, we face an often heavy burden. We care deeply about our work and the women we meet each day, many of whom are in crisis. We face the daily stress of being asked that all-too-innocent question, "So what do you do?" Our workplaces, our peers, and our role models are the targets of violence and hate. The work that we do and the women we serve are stigmatized. And now more than ever, the movement we care so deeply about is in jeopardy. So really, it's not that surprising that we're shy to admit that we don't always love our jobs.

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You know what else is bad for women? Capitalism.

Posted on 4.16.2012 by Chantal

There can be no doubt that in the past year, the backlash against women's reproductive rights and, I would argue, against women in general has reached staggering proportions. The Georgia House recently passed a bill that would criminalize abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, unless a physician can more or less “prove” that the fetus or the mother has a life-threatening medical condition. The Arizona Senate has just passed a similar bill. Earlier this month, an anti-choice protester bombed a Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin. And faith-based employers and lobbyists nearly exploded earlier this year over the Obama Administration's mandate that employers provide contraceptive coverage as part of the new preventive care guidelines. If you're inclined to call this a “war on women,” it would seem as though we're losing.

But if this really is a war (for lack of a better metaphor), perhaps we should ask ourselves, just what are we fighting for? And who or what are we fighting against?

In recent weeks, my Newsfeed and my inbox have been peppered with stories about “the contraceptive debate,” “the pro-life religious Right,” and, of course, “the war on women.” As someone who considers myself an activist and an outspoken proponent of reproductive justice, you’d think I'd be pleased to see a cause I care so much about get so much media and, particularly, social media attention. On the contrary, though, I've been repeatedly disappointed, more so by the so-called “left” than the “right.”

While scanning the news yesterday, I came across the following article posted on the pro-repro rights site, RH Reality Check. Written by Reverend Rebecca Turner of Faith Aloud, the post proclaims that “limiting access to contraception is bad for government, bad for business, and bad for women.” In the article, Turner accuses the religious right, many of whom are fiscal conservatives, of being hypocritical. Contraception, Turner claims, is good for the economy because it saves individual states and the federal government from having to support women's unplanned pregnancies through assistance programs like Medicaid. By the same token, contraception is also good for employers. Women who use contraception to prevent pregnancy are able to focus on their careers and, allegedly, make more money in the long run than their peers who don't use contraception. Employers save money and increase productivity by decreasing the number of women who request maternity leave benefits or leave work altogether due to pregnancy. Turner is not alone in making the case for birth control as good economic sense. Similar articles have appeared in blogs like Jezebel (“Want to Really Screw the Economy? Limit Birth Control and Abortion”) and business publications like Bloomberg (“Curbing Female Reproductive Rights Raises Taxpayer Costs”). The logic of these arguments may be sound. Heck, religious conservatives probably are hypocrites for one reason or another. But just who does this argument appeal to? I sit here, dumbfounded and, frankly, kind of pissed off, shouting at my computer, “you know what else is bad for women? CAPITALISM!”

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