The Center for Reproductive Rights

“For more than 15 years, the Center for Reproductive Rights has used the law to advance reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right that all governments are legally obligated to protect, respect, and fulfill.”

This is the mission statement of the Center for Reproductive Rights. It is a legal advocacy organization dedicated one hundred percent to fighting for reproductive rights in our nation and globally. The group has been a fundamental asset to battling our government on reproductive and women’s rights both inside and outside of the courtroom since 1992. They have been involved with such groundbreaking cases that have defended rights including but not limited to providing and defending abortions, finding affordable access to healthcare and funding, producing emergency contraception, battling legal restrictions, supporting healthy pregnancies, fighting Anti-Choice harassment, revealing biased information and coerced policies, eradicating censorship, defending families that have suffered from maternal death and many others. Without the support of the Center for Reproductive Rights, these desperate women and their families in need of help would have been abused further by our government.

Outside of the courtroom, the Center works with our nation’s government as policymakers. The Center’s Federal Advocacy Program collaborates with the executive branch and Congress to defend and promote reproductive rights and health. They define some of their main goals as:

  1. Promote unbiased information about reproductive and sexual health;
  2. Improve access to contraception;
  3. Secure women’s right to choose and obtain abortion;
  4. Improve healthcare for pregnant women;
  5. Support reproductive rights in foreign assistance programs;
  6. Promote recognition of and protection for reproductive rights as human rights at the United Nations.
  7. To assist policymakers, we supply critical facts and legal analyses that support these objectives. A description of our recent efforts can be found below.

The Center is a strong group that fights for reproductive and women’s rights that has been highly successful in the past. Their website provides numerous outlets to educate yourself, donate your time and your money. By supporting large groups like this, they in turn would be able to provide for women when we need it most. Having successful lobbyists and policymakers defend our rights seems to be the only thing that has ever made the government back down. The people have talked – nay, screamed – and have been ignored for decades. But when a large organization with lots of money, experience, and support speaks its mind, they tend to finally listen up.

“We envision a world where every woman participates with full dignity as an equal member of society.”

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“I have responsibility but am powerless. You have power but are irresponsible with my rights. “

In Georgia, a new law is being considered that will require women to carry stillborn babies to full term until she naturally goes into labor because, according to Georgia Republican Representative Terry England, that’s what cows and pigs do.

“Mr. England, unlike the calves and pigs for which you expressed so much empathy, I am not a beast of burden. I am a woman and I have these human rights:

The right to life.
The right to privacy.
The right to freedom.
The right to bodily integrity.
The right to decide when and how I reproduce.”

One headstrong women’s rights activist and media critic boldly stated that “Personhood-for-zygote based bills and related legislation… criminalize pregnancy and abortion and penalize women for being women, [and] violate my human rights.” Soraya Cehmaly is completely justified. The idea that women should be required to carry a dead baby inside them is not only physically harmful but psychologically harmful to that woman and her family.

Chemaly provides ten reasons while the rest of the world thinks that the United States is absolutely insane.

  1. “Making women carry still-born fetuses to full term because cows and pigs do.”

This bill has already been passed in the Georgia House and is working its way through the Senate. This could put women’s lives in danger by forcing them to keep something dead inside their bodies. It is inhumane and unethical. This could be considered psychological torture for a woman who has lost her child.

2. “Consigning women to death to save a fetus.”

Women die every day nationwide because they do not have access to a safe abortion. Period.

3. “Criminalizing pregnancy and miscarriages and arresting, imprisoning and charging women who miscarry with murder.”

Chemaly points out that pregnant women are becoming an isolated group of people susceptible to laws that “infringe on their fundamental rights.” All of these new laws that define when life begins, what rape is, and what abortions include put women’s lives in danger and the lives of fetuses in danger.

4. “Forcing women to undergo involuntary vaginal penetration (otherwise called rape) with a condom-covered, six-to-eight-inch ultrasound probe.”

Up to twelve states are currently considering the state-mandated rape, oh excuse me, the state-mandated trans-vaginal ultrasounds. According to the current legal definition of the word, unwanted trans-vaginal ultrasounds are rape. This violates a woman’s bodily integrity and also constitutes torture when used, as states are suggesting, as a form of control and oppression.”

5. “Disabling women or sacrificing their lives by withholding medical treatment or forcing… involuntary medical procedures.”

Denying women the right to an abortion when needed can cause serious illnesses, infections, and the loss of organ use, all to protect a fetus that isn’t born yet. Our government is jeopardizing the lives of people who already exist.

6. “Giving zygotes personhood rights while systematically stripping women of their fundamental right.”

This bill states that life will begin for a fetus at the moment of conception. For a lot of states this would mean no abortions, ever. See the above number and you’ll see why this is a threat and a problem.

7. “Inhibiting, humiliating and punishing women for their choices to have an abortion for any reason by levying taxes specifically on abortion.”

This even applies to rape victims trying to terminate their involuntary insemination. The idea that women have to pay for the right to make this decision is insulting.

8. “Allowing employers to delve women’s private lives and only pay for insurance when that agree, for religious reasons, with how she chooses to use birth control.”

A law in Arizona exists that says employers can only provide birth control when a women has proven that she will not use it to control her own reproduction…. AS BIRTH CONTROL?! It’s not up to you!!!

9. “Sacrificing women’s overall health and the well-being of their families in order to stop them from exercising their fundamental human right to control their own bodies and reproduction.”

States are turning down federal funding which often ensures that low-income families and uninsured individuals have greatly reduced access to even the most basic birth control.

10. “Depriving women of their ability to earn a living and support themselves and their families.”

There is a law in Arizona that forces women to prove that birth control is absolutely medically necessary or they reserve the right to fire her.

These laws are outrageous and happening nation-wide. Women are losing their rights to their lives and to the lives of their unborn children. This puts not just themselves in danger but also the well-being and psychology of their family. Women should never lose these rights. Families are being jeopardized for the beliefs of a few Congressmen. These are the exact problems that I have been talking about on this blog. By defining these issues as something that can never be scrutinized again we will finally protect the rights and, frankly, lives of these women.

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Oh no-klahoma!

“A new Oklahoma law will require the details of every abortion to be posted on a public website. Proponents say this will prevent abortion — apparently by shaming and burdening women and doctors.”

This newest invasion of privacy is a state-mandated law that now requires women getting the surgery to collaborate with doctors to fill out a thirty-four survey before the abortion can take place. The document asks for race, age, level of education, marital status, number of previous pregnancies, and county. This would be enough to identify a lot of women in small towns. It is also required to provide the mother’s reason for the abortion, her payment and insurance method, and even such personal information as whether there was “an infant born alive as a result of the abortion.” One women’s rights activist stated that the document would absolutely help reduce the amount of pregnancies in the state because “the requirement itself would scare the shit out of me.” The entire process presents itself as a way to shame women out of wanting to follow through with an abortion, even when necessary. Even doctors are responding negatively to it because they now have a new very long piece of paperwork required before the procedure can take place. As a little kicker, the law also bans the option of sex-selective abortions. This adds to the hurdles for doctors to jump because it is often hard to determine a woman’s reason for having an abortion. But that reasoning is something that should be respected by the doctor. This document makes the reasoning very public by PUBLISHING THAT INFORMATION ONLINE!!!! The bill’s only downfall seems to be its broadness. Because it covers so many subjects the Center for Reproductive Rights is challenging its validity.

Laws like this are exactly the things that are pushing our society to the very edge. Women are becoming terrified to even opt for abortions and other reproductive rights because they are being shot down nation-wide. Some women need the outlet of those abortions and by redefining what they provide and entail, what rape means, health-care concerning contraception and the privacy of that operation is forcing women away from contraceptive options. This will eventually scare women out of following through with contraception until it is no longer an option. We have to stop this before no option is the only option.

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I am not a slut.

One of the most outrageous responses to all the recent hoopla concerning women’s reproductive rights is that of the opinion leader in American conservatism. Radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, has provided the unprecedented response to the new bills with offensive name-calling, biased blaming, and blatant closed mindedness. The Rush Limbaugh Show is one of the highest rated radio talk shows in the United States. Limbaugh presents the news to his right wing listeners with a bit of flair that is usually fairly popular; this has made him no stranger to controversy. The Week Magazine describes Limbaugh as an “incendiary radio host [who] makes his fortune attacking his political enemies with impolitic statements.” However, many believe that the conservative political commentator has finally gone too far. His fleeing advertisers finally forced him to admit that he had crossed a line.

In an earlier entry I covered the controversy of the congressional hearing held to discuss reproductive rights after Obama proposed his mandated contraception coverage by health care providers. Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California banned a Democratic request to let Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student and women’s rights activist, be part of the hearing. To retaliate, the Democrats had an official hearing on February 23 where Fluke stated that she was “an American woman who uses contraceptives.” This hearing is what sparked the conservative retaliation with CNS headlines like “Sex-crazed co-eds going broke buying birth control.” On February 29, Rush Limbaugh first attacks Fluke live on his show because she agrees with the contraception coverage bill. Limbaugh stated that Fluke was asking the government to subsidize her sex life. “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.” He then stated that if the taxpayers were going to pay for it, they should get to watch it.”If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I’ll tell you what it is: We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.” After these inappropriate comments, Limbaugh’s advertisers began to bail and on March 2, President Obama personally called Fluke to express his apologies and support. Limbaugh tries to appeal to the American public by posting online that “My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir.” Despite his half-assed apologies, adds continued to drop from Limbaugh’s talk show. The Rush Limbaugh Show has now lost twenty-six advertisers. Despite Limbaugh’s attempt to apologize again, Obama is still stating that Limbaugh’s commentaries have no place in public discourse.

Rush Limbaugh’s sincerity will always be questioned because he was too close-minded to see the wrongs that were actually committed. Even if he does not agree with the contraception coverage, a woman – hell, an experienced, hard-working, educated woman at that! – should have been granted the honor to defend her rights and the rights of all women in this nation because she was chosen to do so. It was not Issa’s place to deny her, nor was it Limbaugh’s place to reprimand her in front of the entire nation.

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What do we want? CHOICE!

The vote for the “Personhood” bill has been pushed back in the House once again. The bill would require that women undergo an external ultrasound before they can have an abortion and would change the definition of life to beginning at conception – “a pre-cursor, critics say, to outlawing abortion and creating a slew of other legal calamities.” When life begins is something that our government has been trying to “define” for decades, especially when considering abortions and what really is true “murder” of a fetus. By defining life as beginning at conception, our government would make it nearly impossible for women to get abortions no matter what their specific circumstances. Thankfully, on Thursday Republicans finally began to agree with Democrats and decided that the Personhood bill needed more reviewing before a finalized decision was made that could change something so drastically and affect the lives of so many women.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s revised version of the ultrasound bill that I discussed in last week’s blog has been approved and will be brought before the full Senate and finalized by the end of the week.

These current bills are an invasion of privacy and caused from the root an underlying problem that stems from a continual line that our government toes entirely too often. Women deserve the right to make decisions about their bodies. The ultrasound bill is an attempt to raise sympathy in women seeking abortions. By showing them a visual of their unborn child, the government is attempting to create a pathological appeal that will cause women to change their minds before it is too late. Similarly, by redefining when conception begins, women lose the option of abortions no matter what their situation. Although maybe not the most responsible form of contraception, abortion is an outlet and a right that women should be able to utilize if they are not ready to be a mother. It should remain a personal decision of each individual woman and her partner if she so chooses. By redefining conception and requiring ultrasounds, the government is attempting to eradicate even the option to have an abortion without actually outlawing the surgery. It is a sneaky and cheap way for the topic to be discussed and our representatives are abusing that power.

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State-Mandated Rape

Alright, so the form of birth control that I’m going to talk about this week is probably the most offensive and most controversial; but considering recent proposals in the House of Representatives I think it is completely within my topic.

Abortion is the most contentious form of birth control in this country and is continually under discretion and debate:

“Across the country, local legislators regularly cast votes to restrict abortions in their states. Most Americans never hear about it. But this week, Virginia’s latest attempt to prevent women from securing abortions crashed and burned on the national stage—this time, over the issue of ‘vaginal probing.’” (Willis Aronowitz)

The bill states that women must have a trans-vaginal ultrasound to confirm the age of the fetus before they can proceed with an abortion. However, the only way to do this is by forcing an 8 – 10 inch wand into the vagina and maneuvering until a picture is found.The “informed consent” bill is a pathetic attempt to arouse pitty in any pregnant woman seeking an abortion, no matter how she was impregnated. This means that even a woman who has been forcibly raped must – yet again – have an unwanted object shoved into her vagina, before she can make the decision to abort the child of her rapist. The disgusting act suggested by this bill has developed the name “state-mandated rape.” Forcing women to insert anything into their vaginas is literally rape. End of story. The proposed bill sparked outrage in women nationwide as well as “pro-choice activists, progressive voters, and regular people” (Willis Aronowitz). Yesterday, Virginia Governor, Bob McDonnell, removed his support from the abrasive bill. He stated that state “mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state.” He is attempting to amend the bill to include the language that no woman will have to agree to the trans-vaginal ultrasound without her consent as a precondition to another medical procedure. He suggests that an abdominal ultrasound be enough to meet the requirements to have the surgery. If for some reason the external abdominal ultrasound does not provide enough information to determine the age of the fetus it will be for the patient and doctor to decide the next step and the government will have absolutely no say in the matter. McDonnell is openly Pro-Life and is clear in his proposed amendments that he is merely trying to protect “innocent life” and to him, that applies to the mothers too. Good for you, McDonnell.

In my opinion, this is an invasion of privacy either way. I agree that legally the age of the fetus must be determined but there are less offensive – and painful! – ways to do so. The bill is offensive and preposterous and, in my opinion, thrown out completely.

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Bayer Asprin: Who knew?

Recently, a bill was proposed to “mandate coverage if contraception, sterilization, and morning-after pills in all health-insurance plans, exempting purely religious institutions, but including Catholic-run hospitals, colleges, and charities who serve the general public and employ many non-Catholics” (Sullivan, 42). Writer Andrew Sullivan details this issue in a recent article in Newsweek entitled How State Beat Church. The law will demand that employers cover birth control in their health insurance plans. This will exclude churches and other purely religious organizations. The bill has been greeted nationally with surprising popularities and with weighty arguments. Sullivan provides the statistic that “55% of Americans believe contraception should be included for free in all health-care plans. And 58% of American Catholics believe contraception should be included for free in all health-care plans” (45). The bold article also discloses that “98% of sexually experienced American Catholic women have used birth control” (43). These – somewhat unexpected – statistics offer the views of some religious persons while still presenting the facts. Based on these statistics, Sullivan believes that “with the compromise on contraception, Obama has actually increased religious freedom, not restricted it” (44).

A Virginia Norfolk paper published a Q&A discussing the topic on February 11. Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar provides this more recent decision:

“Employers affiliated with a religion will not have to provide birth control coverage if it offends their beliefs. However, the insurers that cover their workers will be requires to offer birth control directly to women working for their religious employer, and do so free of charge […] It’s a lot cheaper than paying for labor and delivery […] Beginning Jan. 1, in most cases, women will have access to birth control at no additional charge through their job-based coverage, as part of a package of preventive services that also includes HIV screening and support for breast-feeding mothers.” (Alonso-Zaldivar)

In this Q&A, Alonso-Zaldivar briefly states the facts and figures and – almost seems uninterested – in his answers.

But what about the response to all of these stated “facts?” Many women’s rights groups have responded very passionately to the debate. Women want their birth control to be covered. Prices can range anywhere from $50 to $250 dollars for just one month’s supply of contraception. To have this expense covered completely would save a lot of women – and men! – from a lot of stress and needless worry. Families, empowered women, and young adults seem to have responded best to Obama’s new proposal.

Of course there are disagreements though. Religious organizations and affiliations are outraged by the idea… even though they will be exempt. One Pittsburgh Catholic Bishop said that “the Obama administration has just told the Catholics of the United States, ‘To Hell with you!’” the strongest objection was that Catholic-run organizations would not be exempt… but as Alonso-Zaldivar informed us, now they are. So what’s the big deal?

Maybe it’s the fact that not just Catholics disagree. A lot of response from the right wing has been negative. These negative responses – in my opinion, and the opinions of many women’s rights organizations – are only fueling the fires of ignorance. Perhaps most famously, Foster Friess, a wealthy patron of Republican Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign, went on Andrea Mitchell’s MSNBC broadcast and rudely stated that “Back in [his] day, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.” This incredibly ignorant statement has only outraged women more. And they every right to be outraged.

Evan McMorris-Santoro published an article last night on Talking Points Memo entitled How the GOP Went Back to the 1950s in Just One Day. Prior to Friess’s blunder, Capitol Hill recently held hearings to debate the new ideas about “contraception and religious freedom” (McMorris-Santoro). The “table full of men” gathered to discuss the ideas after turning down one specific woman to be on the panel. A Democratic Representative was turned away because Republican, Californian Representative, Darrell Issa turned her away from the table because he said she wasn’t “’appropriate or qualified’ to discuss the topic at hand” (McMorris-Santoro). People were awe-struck. Terry O’Neill, President of NOW said “She didn’t have the right credentials? I’m thinking to myself, ‘Buddy, you and your little panel over there don’t have the right anatomy to talk about birth control.’”

Clearly there is a lot of heated debate about the topic and won’t be settled until the bill is passed. And even then this will be something debated for centuries. Whenever the women’s rights community has the rare chance to chalk something up as a win, they are still scrutinized for decisions for decisions of the past. And personally, I believe that a woman deserves the right to not have her anatomy always under the microscope. Society provides enough pressure; we don’t need it from the House.

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Birth Control: A Brief History

Birth control is used to disrupt the natural occurrence of pregnancy in a woman’s body at varying points of fertilization. The idea of birth control has been happening for centuries. Its use is documented as far back as 1850 BCE. Papyrus has been used as an effective spermicide, honey was used to coat the inside of the vagina, and infanticide has been documented as far back as Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. The idea of birth control is anything but modern. Other medicinal plants known to be effective forms of birth control include willow, date palm, pomegranate, pennyroyal, Artemisia, myrrh, and rue. Even the Book of Genesis in the Bible offers the “pull-out” method as an option of birth control.

Modern techniques include everything from barrier methods, oral and injectable contraceptives, and abortion and contragestives. Barrier methods, oral contraceptives – condoms, diaphragms, and “the pill” – and sexual abstinence are the most common and most accepted forms in today’s modern society. Abortion and ECP’s – emergency contraceptive pills, more commonly known as the “morning-after” pill – are still seen in a controversial light.

“Voluntary motherhood” and “family limitation” were some common euphemisms for birth control in the early 1900’s. Women scientists in America and the U.K. began opening clinics, and thus popularized birth control and made it readily available. The term “birth control” was actually phrased by American sex educator, Nurse Margaret Sanger in 1914. However, many women still insisted that they only engage in sex for the purpose of procreation and the idea of contraception was still greatly discouraged. This is the first time women consciously decided that it was time for them to control their own reproductive history. They could engage in sex without having to worry about having children. It was not until the 1960’s and 1970’s that the birth control movement really took off with the start of the Second Wave of Feminism. Women began to campaign for wide range education about contraceptive options and abortion rights for women. Birth control is a conflict that raises questions about women’s rights, family matters, personal freedom, state rights and interference, religion and morals in politics, and the acceptance of the separation of sexual intercourse from procreation.

It seems that birth control will never be 100% accepted by society, whether that is because of peoples’ religions, health care, or moral judgments. Some people just do not like the idea of disrupting the natural occurrence of the reproductive process. Although women have continually been fighting for their private freedom, the argument has been pretty damn public through the centuries.

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A True Story

Picture this:

A young, responsible grad student has been in a committed relationship with her boyfriend for over five years. They both have full time jobs and love each other very much. They are both virgins. They decide that they want to be together for the rest of their lives and so commit themselves to each other. They decide that they want to have sex. So, being responsible young adults, she goes to her doctor to request birth control before they do the deed. When she arrives for her check-up her doctor gladly examines her. At the end of the exam she asks to be put on some form of a birth control. He says he won’t prescribe that to her. She wonders if something is wrong with her, is there a reason she can’t take it? He says, no, but it’s against the morales of his religion to use birth control. She leaves empty handed.

Picture this:

A unrequited love is finally noticed. A student who has been in the friend zone for years finally works up the courage to ask his best friend to go on a date with him. She agrees. They are both giddy. The first date goes well, as they knew it would, and they decide to go on another. And another. And another. These wonderful dates continue between the two best friends for months. He decides that he wants to do something special for her when he asks her to be his girlfriend, which he is doing that night. He goes to the store and purchases the ingredients to make a lovely dinner for two and a bottle of her favorite wine. When he reaches the register, he sees a display of condoms. Now, having sex with the girl tonight has not crossed his mind until this moment, but he likes the idea of it and wants to be responsible and wants her to be comfortable, so he grabs a box of the condoms. He gets to the front of the line and the woman behind the counter refuses to ring up the product. She says that it is against her beliefs to sell contraception to people who are unmarried. The boy then cancels his order with her, carries his things to the register next to hers, and leaves with his purchases.

Picture this:

A young adult decides that she wants to get an IUD. She has been in a committed relationship with her boyfriend for almost two years and decides she wants to be more safe with their contraception. When she suggests the implant to her doctor, she under-minds her and suggests a form of the pill. The woman calmly explains that she suffers from chronic migraines and cannot take the pill because it will affect her headaches. The doctor persists. The woman insists that she has done the research and is sure that an IUD is the best choice for her. The doctor then informs her that IUD’s a really for women who have already had children since they last up to five years. The woman insists that she doesn’t want children at this moment and is certain that she can wait five years. The doctor insists that she will want children soon and shouldn’t need to come back to the doctors to have the implant removed when she’s ready. The woman leaves empty “handed”.

All of the people in these scenarios are real. I personally know each of them. At some point, while trying to be a responsible adult, they were refused the contraception that they sought because of what someone else told them was best for them based on what that person believed. Mind, they were all intelligent, responsible, good people trying to do the right thing, and were refused. Contraception in this country has always been a taboo subject because of health, religion, and societal expectations. But women – and now men – have been fighting to make sure that they help they need and want is available when they decide they need and want it. This topic is important to me because I don’t think it is right for anyone to impose their beliefs on anyone else for any reason. If you don’t want to provide the birth control that someone wants, don’t be an OB-GYN. If you don’t want to sell condoms, don’t work in a grocery store. I realize that some people have to take the jobs they can get, but that doesn’t make it their responsibility to judge the people they serve.

I hope that this blog is read by young people in similar situations. And by doctors and people who want to help. It’s not up to you what is best for me. Don’t impose your beliefs on others and don’t refuse others the things they know they need. It is nobody’s business but their own (and their sexual partners) if someone wants to buy contraception in any form, and that’s the subject I am going to cover. 

 

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