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Archive for the ‘Abortion’ Category

Nothing makes me sadder than the idea that Planned Parenthood would lose its government funding–something that, if some people in Congress get there way, could become a reality. Representative Mike Pence is currently sponsoring a bill that would deny government funding to any organization that provides abortions, regardless if they use government funds to pay for them. Planned Parenthood is one of those organizations; it currently receives over $300 million in government funding and contracts.

Planned Parenthood has recently been under attack by anti-choice organizations. Live Action, an anti-choice group whose website features the headline “Exposing Planned Parenthood’s Cover-up of Child Sex Trafficking” hired actors to conduct sting operations in twelve clinics in six states to expose the alleged horrors occurring in the hands of Planned Parenthood. As Gail Collins summarizes,:

Live Action hired an actor who posed as a pimp and told Planned Parenthood counselors that he might have contracted a sexually transmitted disease from “one of the girls I manage.” He followed up with questions about how to obtain contraceptives and abortions, while indicating that some of his “girls” were under age and illegally in the country.

One counselor, shockingly, gave the “pimp” advice on how to game the system and was summarily fired when the video came out. But the others seem to have answered his questions accurately and flatly. Planned Parenthood says that after the man left, all the counselors — including the one who was fired — reported the conversation to their supervisors, who called the authorities. (One Arizona police department, the organization said, refused to file a report.)

No one looks good giving information to pimps. But even pimps and prostitutes need information about sexual health–the counselors were simply doing their job. And, contrary to what Live Action wants people to think, Planned Parenthood has “a zero tolerance of nonreporting anything that would endanger a minor” just like public clinics or hospitals, according to president Cecile Richards.

What makes these attacks so sad is that Planned Parenthood provides 1.85 million low-income women with family-planning and medical assistance every year. Planned Parenthood is not an abortion clinic; it provides women with pap smears, STD tests, and screening for breast and cervical cancer, and helps newly pregnant women weigh abortion, adoption, and having a baby in a nonjudgmental and informative way.

In addition to being an important and necessary resource for women who do not feel comfortable going anywhere else for reproductive health care, Planned Parenthood also saves the government a lot of money. For every dollar spent on publicly funded family planning services, Medicaid saves $4.02 the next year. Getting rid of Planned Parenthood could effectively cost taxpayers 1.2 billion dollars.

So please, please, sign this, a petition to save Planned Parenthood and keep its government funding.

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Today is Blog for Choice Day 2011!

What does that mean, you ask? Every year, on the the Friday before the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, NARAL Pro-Choice America organizes Blog for Choice Day in order to get people thinking and talking about reproductive rights in America today.

This year’s discussion question is: Given the anti-choice gains in the states and Congress, are you concerned about choice in 2011?

Now, it’s been a long day–my last day of high school ever–and I’m not feeling up to answering this question in its entirety. However, I would like to bring up two bills that are currently in Congress, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” and the “Protect Life Act,” which, in addition to imposing a permanent, blanket prohibition on any and all federal spending for abortion care (currently there are restrictions, but they are for specific programs and must be renewed every year), would essentially take away all federal tax credits for healthcare plans that include abortion, even those that are medically necessary.

The proposed restrictions will make healthcare companies question whether they should include abortion in their policies (currently 87% of companies, a very large proportion, do) and make it extremely difficult for poor women to get abortions. If a woman’s healthcare plan will not help her to pay for a $750 dollar abortion, she may be forced to make unreasonable sacrifices to pay for it, or be unable to get an abortion at all. I find this idea to be scary–and so do many other people.

So, on Blog for Choice Day 2011, remember the importance of access to abortion. Even though a ban on abortion may not be on the horizon, there is a chance that through healthcare restrictions abortion access will be extremely limited–something that we and our congresspeople should work to try to prevent.

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I’ve been meaning to watch if for a while, and this weekend I finally made time to watch MTV’s “No Easy Decision” special. Famous for the shows “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant,” on December 28th MTV aired “No Easy Decision” (at 11:30 PM) to portray one of the alternatives to teen pregnancy: abortion. I’ve never watched “Teen Mom” or “16 and Pregnant,” but from what I’ve seen of MTV, I was initially expecting the show to be bad and melodramatic. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be incredibly moving, informative, and pragmatic–and I would encourage everyone to watch it.

“No Easy Decision” is about 30 minutes long. The first five minutes introduce us to Markai Durham, a teenager previously featured on “16 and Pregnant” after giving birth to her daughter Zakaria. Pregnant again after missing her shot of Depo-Provera, she and her boyfriend James weigh their options–having another baby and struggling to raise, feed, and take care of two children, or having an abortion, something that they both are hesitant to do. (When someone suggests adoption, Markai immediately responds that she’d be too in love with the child by the time it was born to give it up–something that many people overlook when they push adoption on women with unwanted pregnancies.) After consulting with a women’s clinic (we watch the phone conversation, listening to the friendly and informative woman on the other end of the phone and watching Markai cry) and a close friend, and numerous tearful conversations with James, the two decide that having an abortion is the decision that would make most sense for them, Zakaria, and their unborn child.

Abortion is not portrayed as an easy thing to do. After the procedure, Markai struggles with her decision, wondering what it would be like to have another child. She and Mark go out to dinner, and she talks about how the counselor and argue after Mark refers to the unborn child (which Markai refers to as a bunch of cells) as a “thing”–she feels sensitive and defensive about her decision. Markai tells the camera that choosing abortion was the “toughest decision ever,” and that she wouldn’t choose it as a first option for anyone, but that “it’s not the right time” because she’d have to sacrifice so much of her life, Mark’s life, and her daughter’s life in order to raise another child. In a follow-up interview, Markai says that she feels sadness, but not regret.

The show concludes with an interview with three women–Markai, Natalia, and Katie–about how they feel after having abortions. I thought it was amazing to hear the three women’s stories because they were all so different–it showed how abortion doesn’t simply apply to one type of woman. Katie got pregnant the summer before her senior year in college (she had bad reactions to her birth control, and didn’t know that throwing up her pill meant she was not protected), two weeks before her 18-year old sister gave birth to her son. She chose to get an abortion after seeing how much her sister had to deal with during her pregnancy, and realizing that she did not want to go through the same. Natalia had an abortion at 17 after discovering she was pregnant. I found her story particularly moving because she had to go to court, alone, in order to get an abortion–she did not want to tell her parents, and because she lived in one of the 35 states that require parental consent, she had to plead in front of a judge in order to waive the requirement, something that she (similar to many girls) found to be necessary but emotionally trying. Her only assistance in paying for the abortion came from her ex-boyfriend; in order to pay the $750 dollars that her abortion was to cost, she sold back her high school prom ticket. That struck a chord with me, as a girl about to go to prom, because it was so raw and real–a girl my age had to go through that whole ordeal alone. All three of the girl’s stories were different, but they seemed to agree on the idea that their decisions were “parenting decisions”–that they made their decisions not just thinking about what kind of life they wanted for themselves, but also what kind of life they want for their children.

As Lynn Harris of Salon writes, one of the best things about the show is that in addition to everything else, it includes medically accurate information about abortion procedures and the challenge of finding the right birth control method. It also makes it clear that abortion is not a rare, dangerous procedure: Dr. Drew, the host, explains that about 750,000 girls in the U.S. get pregnant every year, and that nearly a third of those teen pregnancies end in abortion. He says that abortion is “among the safest, most common medical procedures in the US” and cites an oft-ignored figure, the fact that 1/3 of all women in America will have an abortion at one point their lives.

At a time when few television shows are willing to openly discuss or portray abortion, MTV’s “No Easy Decision” is an incredibly important and engaging addition. The show made me cry, not just because the girls’ stories were moving, but because stories like theirs are so rarely told. Abortion can be and is the right choice for many women, and needs to be treated as such–bringing an unwanted child into this world is not good for the parents, the child, or society.

PS: If you want to show support for the three women who shared their stories (something many, many women are afraid to do), go to 16 and Loved, created by Exhale, and share your thoughts.

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In my English class in school, we’re currently reading Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri. The first is about a couple and the growing distance between them after the wife gives birth to a stillborn child. It’s beautiful, and incredibly sad, and I, as I am prone to do, began to cry as I read the husband’s confession that while his wife was asleep, he had held his son in the hospital, something his wife had never gotten or expected him to do, and that pained them both immensely.

When I told my English class the next day that I had cried during that passage, everyone laughed–I’m known to cry a lot. And then one of my friends, joking, asked me how I could care so much about a dead baby if I’m so pro-choice–and I realized it’s something worth talking about because many people see the two as mutually exclusive, even if not my friend.

When I heard his question, I immediately thought of this quote that I had read in a pamphlet created by the National Abortion Rights Action League called Why I Provide Abortions by Dr. Liz Karlin. She said “Women have abortions because they have a sense of what it is to be a good mother.” To me, that quote really strikes a chord in that it exemplifies how an abortion is not simply a selfish act on the part of the woman, but an act based on her idea that she is not ready to be the mother, and does not want to bring a child into the world without the kind of mother he or she deserves. A woman who has an abortion knows that the baby she would have would becoming at the wrong time or in the wrong place or from the wrong person, and does not feel right about giving life to something under those conditions.

And yet hearing about a dead baby makes me cry. Why? Because babies that are wanted are beautiful things–they light up a couple’s life, provide infinite fulfillment (and fights and struggles and other tasks of parenthood), and, simply, bring life to this world. The loss of a wanted baby is, to me, one of the saddest things in the world, as it is a loss of a being who, before even being born has been the object of so much love, care, and attention–it is tragic, and deserves to be cried about.

I guess what the dichotomy comes down to for me is my faith in trusting women to decide for themselves if they’re ready to be mothers or not. Women who get abortions don’t take take the decision lightly, as they shouldn’t–but it’s important that they, as women, be able to make the decision based on where they see, or don’t see, parenthood fitting into their lives. An unwanted baby is a tragic thing, too.

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This post is cross posted at JWA

The end of summer marks the beginning of a relatively short but tumultuous season for the high school student: the college application process. The Common Application went up August 1, and with it came a slew of essays that students across the country must finish by January. Topics range from choice of major to hobbies to why you want to go to a particular school. I’ve been slowly working my way through them, and I found myself trying to answer the question of what activities I plan to pursue at college.

I had not expected that question, and decided to look through a list of clubs and organizations at one of the schools for which I was applying to get a better idea of what is out there outside of basic things like sports and Hillel. In my search, I and stumbled upon a group that seemed so obvious that I was surprised I hadn’t though of it before: Students for Choice. Some campus pro-choice groups affiliate themselves with the Feminist Majority Foundation, others with NARAL Pro-Choice America, and others are unaffiliated, but I realized (happily) that all of the schools to which I am applying have some kind of pro-choice organization, and that it is natural and incredibly likely that I will join and take on some kind of leadership role.

Why does this matter to anyone but me, you’re asking. Here’s the thing: lots of organizations have an impact on college campuses, but I think that pro-choice groups in particular are relevant at this point in time. From a New York Times magazine article about how the difficulties involved in training and recruiting abortion providers to a New York Magazine article about how today’s younger generation is significantly more pro-life than the generation before it, often it seems that my generation just doesn’t care as much as our parents did about abortion. Some people say that it is because of a growing feeling of distance from the urgency of Roe v. Wade, and I’m inclined to agree with them—if I think about the people my age that I know who are pro-choice, it is not usually an active thing, but just another issue like caring about the environment or gay rights. When the Stupak and Nelson amendments came along earlier this year with provisions that many people said were trying to restrict access to abortion, none of my friends talked about it at all.  Now, my experience is anecdotal, and should not be trusted to represent all of America. However, it makes sense to me that a generation of girls born knowing that they have access to birth control and abortion would not feel as passionately about protecting that right as one that had to fight for it to begin with.

There is a long history of pro-choice Jewish activists in America, from Gloria Steinem (her father was Jewish) to Sonia Pressman Fuentes and Betty Friedan, two of the founders of the National Organization for Women (NOW), which since the sixties has worked towards advancing women’s wellbeing, including securing their reproductive rights through access to birth control and abortion. But just as in the general population, there seems to be a growing anti-choice sentiment among the Jewish community, exemplified by the fact that In Shifra’s Arms, a specifically Jewish crisis pregnancy center based in the DC area, and Friends of Efrat, an organization dedicated to “saving” children in Israel, have come into existence. Seeing the shift within the Jewish community hits even closer to home.

So that’s why it is so important to have pro-choice groups on college campuses: even if young people can take their right to choose for granted at this very moment, they shouldn’t. Yes, women can get abortions legally in America, but that is not the end of the story; from crisis pregnancy centers that try to mislead women away from getting an abortion to intimidation and violence towards abortion providers, there are still plenty of problems with abortion in America today. Not to mention the idea that down the road, there is always the terrifying prospect of abortion being banned again. So that’s why I believe that it’s important for me to join a pro-choice group when I go to college: because reproductive rights are important, because I want to make sure that abortion stays legal and safe for women, but also because I want my peers to learn to appreciate and want to protect the rights that we have been lucky enough to have been born with.

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Yesterday, the FDA approved Ella, an emergency contraceptive that is about effective up to 120 hours after unprotected sex and that is currently available in 22 countries. According to the NYT:

Women who have unprotected intercourse have about 1 chance in 20 of becoming pregnant. Those who take Plan B within three days cut that risk to about 1 in 40, while those who take ella would cut that risk to about 1 in 50, regulators say.

Plan b, the current form of emergency contraception, which is available over-the-counter for people 17 and older, claims to be effective for 72 hours after unprotected sex.

Less than two months ago, a federal advisory committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of Ella. Unlike the long, drawn-out FDA decision to make Plan B available without a prescription, the last FDA discussion about emergency contraception, this approval process has been quick and efficient, which many women’s health advocates celebrate as a step away from what they see as FDA’s previous political agenda. However, women will need a prescription to get Ella.

The debate over Ella that has ensued is because of comparisons to RU-486, what many people call the abortion pill. Ella’s main ingredient is ulipristal acetate, which works as a contraceptive by blocking progesterone, thereby delaying the ovaries’ egg production. However, because RU-486 prevents a fertilized egg from implanting and dislodges growing embryos by blocking progesterone, as progesterone is needed to prepare the womb to accept a fertilized egg and to nurture a developing embryo, some people say that Ella will do the same and that it is another “abortion pill.” Studies on animals have shown that ella has little effect on established pregnancies, suggesting that it will not induce abortions like RU-486; however, it has not been tested as an abortion pill for humans, so there is no conclusive evidence as to whether or not it could serve as one. Even without evidence, antiabortion groups such as Concerned Women for America have made statements declaring it an “abortion drug.”

In the article linked to above, and in this article in the Washington Post, it says that one of the fears that critics of the pill have is that men will slip the pill to unsuspecting women. Now, the fact that both the NYT and the Washington Post felt the need to mention this fact means that people are actually worried about this, which I find very surprising, and kind of funny—if men are going to slip women Ella, then wouldn’t they slip them Plan B (which they wouldn’t need a prescription for), or birth control every night? What kind of regulatory concern is it that men would secretly slip women pills: yes, it could happen, but it could also happen with myriad other pills, too.

Either way, I think that it’s important that the FDA approved Ella for women in the US. It’s another option for women to prevent unwanted pregnancies, at a time when about one half of all pregnancies are unwanted. And most people, both pro-choice and anti-abortion, agree that unwanted pregnancy is an issue that must be dealt with, both to reduce the number of abortions that occur and because children born from an unwanted pregnancy are more likely to have developmental and childhood issues. While calling Ella an abortion pill is only speculation, it is fact that Ella can prevent unwanted pregnancies and help prevent unwanted pregnancies and their repercussions.

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When a friend of mine pointed out this article from the Washington Jewish Week to me a few days ago, I was surprised, because I had never heard about what it is written on. The article talks about an organization called In Shifra’s Arms, which was created in order to, in their words, “help you overcome obstacles to raising your child (parenting) or overcome obstacles to choosing loving adoptive parents to raise your child. We’re here to listen and serve.” The article explains that Erica Pelman created In Shifra’s Arms in order to help women get through a pregnancy who need support. It also includes a quote from vice-chair of the organization, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, saying how In Shifra’s Arms fills a gap that existed—churches often have signs outside of their buildings that say “Pregnant, need help?” as well as programs set up with crisis pregnancy centers for pregnant women looking for help, but synagogues do not.

And that’s when I started to feel a little uncomfortable: when it became a comparison to crisis pregnancy centers. The mission of In Shifra’s Arms sounded admirable at first—a lot of women really do need support to get them through a pregnancy, and the Jewish community is no exception. But crisis pregnancy centers are not simply places of support for pregnant women. As the article goes on to mention, crisis pregnancy centers have been criticized by pro-choice activists but also by many medical professionals for providing women with misleading information, refusing to assist women who want an abortion, and refusing to give referrals for places to get abortions. According to research done by NARAL Pro-Choice America, crisis pregnancy centers across Maryland consistently provide women with false information, such as telling them that abortions cause breast cancer and that abortions cause severe psychological issues. Many are staffed by badly trained and unqualified volunteers, and many use scare tactics (such as showing women videos of an abortion) to try to force women to keep their babies. While the study was performed only in Maryland, many of the crisis pregnancy centers are part of national networks.

The scary thing is that In Shifra’s Arms seems to fit much of the bill of a crisis pregnancy center. Firstly, Pelman received training from Birthright International, a chain of crisis pregnancy centers across the US and Canada. At least two of the crisis pregnancy centers investigated in the above NARAL study were Birthright centers, and although the study does not mention which centers had which problems, all centers were found out to give out misleading information to women—not a good sign. Pelman also says in the article that she would not assist a woman who wants to get an abortion, nor would she provide a referral for an abortion (except when a woman’s life is in danger, in which case she would provide a referral to a rabbi, but not a medical professional). The In Shifra’s Arms website paints abortion as extremely harmful to women’s health, citing various studies for support even though the American Psychological Association, among other major authorities on the issue have come out saying that there is no substantial evidence to show that abortion causes psychological issues among women any more than carrying out an unwanted pregnancy does. Quite a few traits that seem like those of a crisis pregnancy center.

So is this organization, like crisis pregnancy centers, trying to manipulate women into keeping their children? I do not know enough to say for sure, but I can say that there are some hints that it may not be trying to give women all the information that is out there to help them make their choices. And so people should be aware of that fact, and try to ensure that Jewish women do have other options than an organization that seems to be pushing an agenda other than simply helping women to come to their own decision.

It makes me sad to have to doubt this organization, because I think that there really is a need to help out women who want to raise a child but who might not have the resources; those women do deserve support and guidance. Women need to be able to make their own choices, and for many women that means keeping the child, and for many women that means having an abortion. But women deserve to make these choices based on true, factual information, and women deserve to make these choices without people pushing them towards what they believe. Because in the end, I believe that in order for people to be satisfied with the choice that they make, whichever choice that may be, they have to feel that it was theirs and that they were properly informed before they made it; the Jewish community, just like other communities, should strive to help them feel that way.

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