A comment in support of pro-life inclusion at the Women’s March on Washington

A few news organizations reported over the last couple of days that pro-life organizations have been excluded from official partnership with the Women’s March on Washington (e.g., here’s a piece from The Atlantic which includes interviews from folks on both sides of the issue). One pro-life group, New Wave Feminists, was recognized as a partner by the march, but then later removed.

Now, I’m not an organizer of the march, so this isn’t my decision to make. I’m not even going to the march in D.C. (though I’ll be at my local march the same day, and I encourage those who can participate to do so). Moreover, the pro-life position is at odds with the policy platform those who did organize put together. That platform reads:

We believe in Reproductive Freedom. We do not accept any federal, state or local rollbacks, cuts or restrictions on our ability to access quality reproductive healthcare services, birth control, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, or medically accurate sexuality education. This means open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education. We understand that we can only have reproductive justice when reproductive health care is accessible to all people regardless of income, location or education.

That said, I’m a pro-choice feminist, and I think excluding pro-life groups from partnership status is a mistake.  I’m grateful that some of my pro-life fellow citizens will march regardless, and I’d be glad to march alongside them.

To be clear, I think reproductive freedom is essential to women’s health and equality (and I don’t think we have to get into substantive debate about agency or the metaphysics of personhood to recognize this; banning abortion gambles with women’s lives – and that’s true even when there are meant to be exceptions for the life of the mother). I think arguments like this rely pretty straightforwardly on sexist notions (I don’t think men are some kind of depraved creatures who can only be reined in if women find within themselves to set a moral example — to live our lives in such a way as to make the potential consequences of action salient to men — and I don’t think valuing caregiving need be at odds with sexual agency nor a recognition of the value of reproductive freedom). Further, I don’t think there is intrinsic value in unity or collaboration (there’s no value added to racism, for example, when instantiated in unity with others).

But I also think that abortion is an issue on which reasonable people disagree, and in the coming years we will need reasonable people to work together given the unreasonable have taken the helm. If pro-life groups are willing to set aside that the official platform of the march directly challenges their organizing mission for the sake of working together to protect those values which we do share, then I’ll be happy to work with them. As Richard Rorty said, “Solidarity is not discovered by reflection but created.” For those of us whose conscience permits it, it’s time to be creating.

A problem with those Zika warnings

Hard to believe that just a few weeks ago, hardly anyone had heard of the Zika virus or the condition to which it is now suspected to be linked. Microcephaly is a rare congenital condition where infants are born with undersized craniums. Though Zika’s exact relationship, if any, to this lifelong condition has yet to be determined, WHO has declared Zika a global emergency, and government officials in Brazil,  Colombia, Ecuador and El Salvador are “advising women to avoid getting pregnant, for fear that the fast-spreading Zika virus may cause severe brain defects in unborn children.” Officials outside affected countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are advising women to “avoid traveling“ to those areas.

Notice anything odd about these warnings? No? Let’s continue:

As many commentators have pointed out, it seems mind boggling that countries without contraception, and where abortion is illegal even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, are now recommending that women stop having babies for at least two years, or until medical researchers have a better understanding of Zika’s impact on developing fetuses. Human rights advocates and health workers have rightly pushed back against those recommendations. “Even if women attempt to follow the recommendations through abstinence,” writes Charlotte Alter for Time, “sexual violence is so pervasive throughout the region that many women may get pregnant against their will.”

Here is the problem: All of these warnings to women about getting pregnant have managed to avoid a particular word. That word is “men.”

– See more at: http://www.damemagazine.com/2016/02/03/three-letter-word-missing-zika-virus-warnings#sthash.csJH5iLM.dpuf

Pregnant women’s rights

A depressing catalogue of the ways that pregnant women’s rights are denied. And a call to action.

If we want to end these unjust and inhumane arrests and forced interventions on pregnant women, we need to stop focusing only on the abortion issue and start working to protect the personhood of pregnant women.

We should be able to work across the spectrum of opinion about abortion to unite in the defense of one basic principle: that at no point in her pregnancy should a woman lose her civil and human rights.

Notre Dame appeals to SCOTUS over ACA

The University of Notre Dame has appealed to the Supreme Court, requesting that it require the lower courts reconsider its case against the HHS mandate in the light of the Hobby Lobby decision. Notre Dame lost its previous appeal, in which three anonymous students filed an intervening suit.

One unique feature of the legal complaint that Notre Dame is asking be reconsidered is that it asserts government regulation which treats religious universities as distinct from houses of worship violates the university’s religious belief in the unity of the Church. In its complaint, the university writes,

The U.S. Government Mandate also improperly attempts to sever Notre Dame from the Roman Catholic Church. Notre Dame sincerely believes in the unity of the Catholic Church, including that Catholic educational institutions, especially Notre Dame, are by definition the “heart of the church” or Ex Corde Ecclesiae. Notre Dame’s mission is just as central to Catholic faith and life as the mission of Catholic houses of worship. Yet, the U.S. Government Mandate would limit the definition of “religious employers” to houses of worship, attempting to sever the Church from its heart and to divide the unified Church. The U.S. Government mandate would thus turn the broad right to Religious Exercise into a narrow Right to Worship.*

Irrespective of what one thinks about religious freedom, women’s rights to healthcare, or potential violations of the establishment clause, this is a troubling argument. If religiously-affiliated universities could not be treated as distinct from houses of worship without violating religious exercise rights, then effectively, students at those universities could not be protected from sexual misconduct, harassment, or discrimination by Title IX as Title IX is not applicable to houses of worship (nor could it be).

*It is worth noting that Notre Dame has argued in court in the past (cf. Laskowski v. Spellings and  Am. Jewish Cong. v. Corp. for Nat’l. & Cmty. Serv.) that activities such as the provision of healthcare coverage benefits do not constitute religious exercise.

Forced Sterilisation and race

Recent legislation regarding the forced sterilizations performed on incarcerated women in California prisons evokes a muted time in U.S. history when sexist, racist, classist and ableist eugenics policies were orchestrated by the state.

But while the scandal evokes skeletons of days past, the problem is far from dead and buried. Today, state oversight is the perpetrator, as the 39 female inmates who were sterilized from 2005 to 2013 without meeting state requirements for consent exemplify. Despite these nuances, however, forced sterilization looks a lot like it did under the United States’ early Supreme Court-backed eugenic laws: brushed off and racialized.

Such an infuriating issue should attract the ire of the feminist community, but so far there are mostly crickets. This unresponsiveness echoes the attention women’s rights and reproductive justice groups have historically given to forced sterilization, a procedure that overwhelmingly plagues women of color and, in California, has disproportionately affected prisoners of color.

For more, go here.

Hypnosis, not epidurals, for a generation of brave children.

Turkish politicians keep on coming up with the good stuff. The latest, perhaps in honour of Kate giving birth, is from health minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu, who said today that women should avoid having epidurals if they don’t want to raise cowardly babies. Not sure how the mother’s pain will help the baby be more courageous: perhaps he meant these children would be less afraid of hurting women? Hypnosis is preferable, he says, just about, as it makes for a more ‘natural’ birth. The news item is here, in Turkish. If you click on the little british flag, you’ll get this computer generated translation – terrible, but you’ll get the gist.

Vaginas of Anarchy

North Carolina’s GOP tacked on abortion restrictions to State Bill 353, which was the Motorcycle Safety Act. This, just after tacking on abortion restrictions on to House Bill 695 (originally aimed at banning the recognition of Sharia law in family courts). As of this moment, I can’t access the new text of the bill via the official NC legislative site, but you can find more information from those on the front lines on twitter.

And in the meanwhile, here’s a song about what’s been going on (with some explicit language).

UPDATE: More information from HuffPo:

On Wednesday morning, state Rep. Joe Sam Queen (D) wrote on Twitter, “New abortion bill being heard in the committee I am on. The public didn’t know. I didn’t even know.”

Rick Perry on what Wendy Davis should have learned

You read that right. Rick Perry think he knows both what Wendy Davis has or has not learned from her own experience, and what Wendy Davis should have learned from her own experience. He must have some amazing (and, seemingly, impossible) epistemic skills.

“Who are we to say that children born in the worst of circumstances can’t lead successful lives?” Perry asked in a speech at a convention held by the National Right to Life organization. “Even the woman who filibustered the Senate the other day was born into difficult circumstances. She’s the daughter of as single woman, she was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas Senate. It’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example: that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential, and that every life matters.”

Of course, this quote illustrates that he has fundamentally missed the point, and is trying to change the subject.

Shrage in NYT on ‘forced fatherhood’

Lauri Shrage With the prospect of father’s day ahead over the weekend, Laurie Shrage (left) has a piece for the New York Times confronting the issue of ‘forced fatherhood’, and whether (in limited contexts, namely, those in which women can in fact access contraception and abortion services) women’s reproductive autonomy is unfairly greater than that of men. In an instance in which a woman becomes pregnant without the consent of the male partner to the pregnancy (e.g. due to contraceptive accident), she suggests that we have an unfair case of ‘forced fatherhood’. In such cases, a man is required to undertake the significant (at least) financial responsibilities that he has not voluntarily undertaken.

Shrage writes:

‘just as court-ordered child support does not make sense when a woman goes to a sperm bank and obtains sperm from a donor who has not agreed to father the resulting child, it does not make sense when a woman is impregnated (accidentally or possibly by her choice) from sex with a partner who has not agreed to father a child with her.’

Policies that require biological fathers to take on such financial responsibilities are punitive, she argues, and can be viewed as a way of controlling sexual behaviour (in the way that inability to access abortion punishes women for being sexually active).

Moreover, rejecting this policy that requires the biological fathers to undertake financial responsibilities could open up ways of conceiving fatherhood that move beyond biological relationship (I like this point: as my two siblings and I write our father’s day cards, only one of us will be celebrating our biological father, but he’s a father no more and no less to each of us!).

This raises many interesting questions about what grounds parental responsibilities, and has -unsurprisingly – generated considerable response from the feminist blogosphere.

Here’s my take on the objections that have come up (after the break):

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