All Our Lives is in full agreement with the vision of the Women’s March on Washington, as expressed on their website:

We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.

This vision statement, along with the March’s mission and core principles, are beautiful, nonviolent, and inclusive. Last week, however, the organizers released a set of “Unity Principles” that include abortion as a right which must be unrestricted and free for everyone. We cannot unite behind that principle. We believe that abortion is a life-destroying practice we should be working to move past, not embracing.

But we also know that abortion is the fruit of the oppression of women, of rape, of poverty, of racism, of ableism. And we know that the incoming administration, led by a self-confessed assaulter of women, threatens to worsen conditions along all of these axes. So we stand with our sisters to oppose bigotry and discrimination in all of their forms, to reject rape culture, to ensure that all women have affordable and effective family planning, and to work for a decent standard of living for all people.

Can women who oppose abortion march in good conscience? Some will decide that the answer is “no,” because they can’t be seen as endorsing the entirety of the “Unity Principles.” Others (such as All Our Lives members, New Wave Feminists, and Life Matters Journal) will go to stand with our fellow marchers for women’s rights, although we dissent on abortion, because we’re women too. All of us should agree to redouble our efforts to serve women and their children in the days to come.

In a 5-4 decision today (SCOTUSblog analysis here), the United States Supreme Court ruled that Peggy Young’s employment discrimination lawsuit against UPS could proceed. Young was forced to take leave without pay when she was pregnant due to a 20-pound lifting restriction, even though UPS accommodated other drivers in conditions that were similarly, or even more, restrictive.

Young’s suit claimed that UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, saying that Young couldn’t show that “similarly-situated employees outside the protected class received more favorable treatment” than she did. People who had lost their drivers’ licenses due to DUIs weren’t similarly situated because Young wasn’t legally barred from driving; other workers with physical limitations weren’t similarly situated because they were covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Young wasn’t. She appealed, and the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Circuit’s interpretation of the PDA was too narrow.

Young can now go back and make the case that UPS denied her accommodations that were available to other workers who were similar in their ability or inability to work. If she can show that — and in this case, she has — UPS can try to demonstrate that the reasons for not accommodating her were pregnancy-neutral and not based on discrimination. The argument that accommodations would cost money, though technically neutral, can’t be used as a reason not to provide them to pregnant workers.

All in all, this is a victory for pregnant workers and their babies. However, there’s still uncertainty about what accommodations the law requires, and that uncertainty will mean that the only way for many women to get fair treatment is by taking employers to court. That’s why Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), one of the lead sponsors of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, said on Twitter: “While today’s #SCOTUS ruling in #YoungvUPS is a victory for Peggy, it does not create a predictable, simple standard for pregnant workers. Congress should pass my #PWFA, to establish a clear and predictable standard, guaranteeing reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers.” We agree. Pregnant workers shouldn’t have to choose between their jobs on the one hand, and their health and that of their children on the other.

Thanks to Consistent Life for alerting us to this petition. It asks the Secretary of HHS to make pregnancy a “qualifying life event” allowing people to obtain insurance coverage outside of the three-month open enrollment period. Childbirth is already considered a qualifying life event — pregnancy should be too. Making sure pregnant women have access to affordable medical care is good for both mother and child.

Petition: All pregnant women deserve access to insurance coverage

For Immediate Release

December 3, 2014

Washington, D.C.—On Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Young v. United Parcel Service, a case that will help determine what accommodations employers are legally obligated to provide to their pregnant employees.

Peggy Young is a UPS employee who sought light duty after her doctor advised her not to lift more than 20 pounds during her pregnancy. Although it grants accommodations for other medical needs, UPS refused to allow Young to return to work until she was no longer pregnant.

Women’s rights and labor rights organizations filed amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs on behalf of Peggy Young. In addition, 23 anti-abortion groups signed on to a brief filed by professors from the University of St. Thomas School of Law. Some media accounts have framed this as a case of “strange bedfellows”—but not everyone finds it strange.

All Our Lives and Feminists for Nonviolent Choices are two of the organizations that joined the pro-lifers’ amicus brief. Both groups work to address the social and economic factors that put unjust pressure on women to have abortions. Both see pregnancy discrimination in employment as an example of social structures that fail to respect human life.

“Our society claims to value children and motherhood so highly, and yet we don’t value them enough to put them before the maximization of profit,” said Jennifer Roth of All Our Lives. “Without reasonable accommodations, a pregnant worker might have to choose between protecting her health and her baby’s on the one hand, and supporting her family on the other. If their lives really matter, they’re worth the cost of a few extra water breaks or a light duty assignment.”

Dr. Mary Dahl Maher, president of Feminists for Nonviolent Choices, stated, “For a truly pro-woman, pro-life decision, the Supreme Court must rule that the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act mean employers are to meet the needs of pregnant women the same as they would meet the needs of any other worker who’s similarly physically restricted. Employer policies that are merely ‘pregnancy-neutral’ are, in fact, prejudiced against pregnancy and therefore against women.”

For more information, visit: http://www.allourlives.org and http://www.ffnvc.org.

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“Face it, blacks. Michael Brown let you down.”

Does that headline get your hackles up? It got mine up. But then I read the article, and it was devastating. The author describes the experience of hoping that this time, someone would care that an unarmed black kid had been killed by the police. Maybe this time, someone would think that Mike Brown — and his community — had gotten far worse than they deserved. Until people went looking for reasons why he must have brought it on himself.

For a moment there, things were looking pretty good. A boy shot multiple times with his hands up. College bound. Poor. Innocent. And in response: helicopters and tanks. Maybe this time, we thought, they would believe us.

But that’s all been ruined.

We now have all sorts of reasons to make us doubt Brown’s humanity. He may have stolen some cigarillos. He may have been facing the officer when he was shot. He got shot in the top of the head, which might mean that he was surrendering, or might mean he was being defiant. He made amateur rap songs. Perhaps worst of all, he’s been caught grimacing at a camera making a contorted peace sign, and it turns out that he was pretty tall.

And Fox News has been trying to cast doubt on whether he was actually going to go to college in the first place.

All signs that his life was worth less than we might have hoped.

The inevitable had happened. Apologists for police violence had successfully painted Mike Brown as a “thug” who deserved what he got. If the question is “what could a black person do that would make their death not their own fault?”, there’s no answer. The question should be “why are black people required to prove — over and over again, in a rigged game — that they don’t deserve to be killed?”

Remember literacy tests for voting? They were ostensibly in place to ensure that applicants were educated enough to qualify as voters. But in reality:

Determination of who “passed” and who “failed” was entirely up to the whim of the Registrar of Voters — all of whom were white. In actuality, whites almost always “passed” no matter how many questions they missed, and Blacks almost always “failed’ in the selective judgement of the Registrar.

If you don’t want to grant someone a status in the first place, any excuse to revoke it will do. So it is with the right not to be killed. If people wanted to see an 18-year-old black man as a fully human person deserving of the right to life, then video of him allegedly swiping a handful of cigars and shoving a store clerk wouldn’t change that. Photos of him making a hand signal wouldn’t change that. Rap lyrics wouldn’t change that. That he was tall and heavy wouldn’t change that. How do I know? Because white people miss those questions on the humanity test, as it were, all the time without being dismissed as thugs who need killing.

For obvious reasons, nobody who considers themselves pro-life should embrace an ideology that requires human beings to pass tests to be considered worthy of living.

And speaking of pro-life, consider this: In the United States, the abortion rate is highest among black women. Black women in America have 40 abortions per 100,000 women — almost 4 times the rate among non-Hispanic white women. That’s 360,000 black lives ending in abortion every year. That’s who knows how many black women ending up in clinics like Kermit Gosnell’s. How many of those abortions would have been avoided if black Americans, on average, had the same healthcare, access to resources, and life prospects as white Americans? If we acted like black lives, born and unborn, really matter?

With the tragic and heartbreaking news of Robin Williams’ death by suicide, many people have been contemplating the reality of severe clinical depression and asking how it could have crept into the life of someone as talented, fulfilled and beloved as Robin Williams. I myself derived hours of enjoyment, solace, and even edification from his movies, some of which dealt sensitively with the topic of suicide. Perhaps his death illustrates that depression is not a character flaw; nor is it a respecter of persons.

I am more than disheartened to witness the inevitable comments that have appeared on the internet in response to the news that he was battling early onset Parkinsons’ disease. Underneath an internet story on this news, one commenter wrote:
.
It gives some basic level of comfort in that Robin was successfully fighting his depression but got sidetracked by a disease with a lousy prognosis. I feel that his actions now weren’t of depression but of self determination. I truly feel, that when faced with imminent deterioration of function, the decision is that of the individual. I’ll miss you Robin, I grew up with you from age 10 on Happy Days and Mork and through your career, but I’ll always respect your decision.

As mentioned in the related news story, scientists have established that Parkinsons inhibits the production of dopamine, which, like serotonin and norepinephrine, is responsible for facilitating concentration, energy and feelings of well-being. Major depression is already indicated by a lack of these chemicals; hence, I imagine that Parkinsons-induced depression could push someone with preexisting depression into a psychological meltdown. Perhaps Williams situation frayed his connection with humanity’s innate survival instinct, giving previously checked suicidal impulses uninhibited access to his mind. Whatever the case, what happened on August 11th indicates that when he killed himself, Williams was not successfully fighting his depression: he fought valiantly, but he lost that battle.

Moreover, the respect this commenter is offering to Williams only exacerbates the situations of people with unmet mobility needs. We are approaching the second decade of the twenty first century, yet people who use wheelchairs, respirators, or other mechanical devices to engage our world; as well as those with psychological and cognitive anomalies that preclude our society’s narrow concept of independence, still lack the right to receive related services in their homes.

This would likely not have been a problem for Williams, who probably would have been able to fun the receipt of such services himself, as can others with a solid middle to upper class income. Hence the error of validating actions based on the resources of a privileged few: the underprivileged are always left to experience the negative consequences of that action. Such people need support, compassion, accommodation and access to treatment; not a choice between marginalization or death.

Ultimately, the attitude expressed by the aforementioned comment reflects a meme with universal and oppressive implications: Being impaired and/or requiring the help of others is worse than anything else. Death, despite its historical role of inducing near-pathological fear, is suddenly perceived as good. No one can know what lies beyond the grave, but let us not push ourselves or our loved one toward it with empty, privileged platitudes of “self-determination.” Instead, let us do the hard work of providing whatever individuals need to regain fulfilling lives.

There has been something I’ve been meaning to write for a while now: I think that it’s important to note that while All Our Lives supports the practice of safe sex, there is no need for people to engage in sex for sex’s sake. I often worry that some individuals, particularly people in their twenties and thirties, may feel obligated to have sex because that is what society expects them to do. Of course, the same problem applies to teenagers, who are impacted by the same message: there is a timetable on when someone should lose his or her virginity, and they had better do it before they grow up to be a 40-year-old virgin. Anyone who ends up in that situation has something wrong with him or her, either sexually, socially or psychologically. The latter mentality is oppressive to those who, for whatever reason, choose not to have sex.

While it is certainly possible for trauma or illness to affect someone’s libido, there are many healthy, legitimate reasons for avoiding sexual activity, either in the long-term or in one’s choice of partners. Some of them may include:

-Putting off the responsibility of sexual activity until one is more established in terms of a career or education
-Not having found the right person to have sex with
-Being temporarily uninterested in sex
-Having an asexual orientation
-Avoiding intercourse that does not match one’s orientation, such as when a lesbian who has not “come out” resists pressure to have sex with men.
-Spiritual decisions regarding the relationship between the individual’s body and his or her relationship with the Divine.

Personally, I’d say that being abstinent has been one of the healthiest decisions I’ve made in my life. I am waiting to have sex with someone with whom I am deeply in love, preferably within a marital covenant. That is what “works” for me, both spiritually and emotionally.

It is true that my initial choice to abstain was rooted in a concept of self-respect that was tied to my religious beliefs. However, as time went on, I also felt that sex would be source of stress and conflict in my life. During high school, college and graduate school, I struggled to take care of my basic needs and complete my schoolwork with the excellence that I wanted to achieve. I sense that attempting to manage birth control pills, ovulation calendars, condoms, etc would have been very burdensome, not to mention anxiety-producing. When I had irregular periods in 2006, I knew that it wasn’t because I was pregnant. (I was severely stressed.) I can’t imagine how awful I would have felt if I had had to worry about pregnancy every month. Because I was abstinent, STIs or pregnancy weren’t even possibilities, so I was free to focus on other things.
I still associate my abstinence with spiritual commitment and see it as a way of honoring my identity as one of God’s creatures. However, I am also proud of continuing to make the sexual choices that are right for me. When I have sex, it will be with the right person, at the right time, or not at all.

Hence, I want to assure readers who choose not to have sex that that choice is perfectly healthy and normal. No one should ever feel pressured to have sex because they have reached a certain age, or because our society maintains an ableist association between a lack of sexual activity and psychological infirmity.

So, if you have sex, make sure it’s in a situation where you feel safe, respected, and ready. If that means not having sex, that’s ok, too.

A lot of advocates for women’s health and for workers were pretty upset after Monday’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision. The Lannisters even sent their regards. So of course, the Very Serious People arrived on the scene to tell us that it’s really no big deal and we shouldn’t get so worked up over it.

I don’t think so. Let’s look at some of the reasons people are saying that the holding was narrow and there probably won’t be any serious practical effects.

Claim: The ruling only applies to closely-held corporations.

True, but that doesn’t make it narrow. Over 90% of American companies are “closely-held corporations.” Those companies employ over 50% of American private sector workers. It’s true that most of them are unlikely to refuse to offer insurance that covers contraception (known hereafter as “standard insurance,” because by law that’s what it is), but that doesn’t mean the scope of the decision itself isn’t broad.

Claim: The ruling won’t have much effect because the affected employees will still get contraception coverage.

Well, they might. The HHS has created a system to accommodate religious non-profits who don’t want to offer standard insurance, and the Court said that for-profit corporations could be offered the same accommodation. It hasn’t yet been established that HHS has the legal authority to extend the compromise to for-profit corporations, though that does seem likely to happen. But there’s another problem. In Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell (formerly Sebelius), which is currently making its way through the Federal court system, a religious order is claiming the accommodation itself violates their rights because signing a form certifying that they won’t provide standard insurance means they’re directing the government to provide contraception coverage in their stead, and therefore cooperating with “evil.” It’s not impossible that the Court might say now that the government can provide contraception for Hobby Lobby employees, only to strike down the system they’re using to provide it later.

Claim: Hobby Lobby offers insurance that covers contraception; they were only asking not to cover “abortifacients.”

This is true in the case of Hobby Lobby itself. However, the decision applies to insurance coverage of all contraception. Basically, the Court used the concern over so-called “abortifacients” as cover to issue a broader ruling that will allow for-profit companies to deny all contraception coverage to their employees and their dependents.

In any event, the claim that the four methods in question are in fact abortifacient is highly contestable. I find it incredibly troubling that the Court felt no need to address the factual content of that claim.

Claim: The ruling only applies to contraception.

The majority said that people with religious opposition to vaccines, mental health screenings, or other services often covered under standard insurance might still have to cover them. At first, this seems to make the ruling more palatable; at least it affects fewer people and services than it otherwise might. But in fact, this is a problem precisely because the Court is singling out contraception as somehow unlike other medical services.

In any event, our decision in these cases is concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate. Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs. Other coverage requirements, such as immunizations, may be supported by different interests (for example, the need to combat the spread of infectious diseases) and may involve different arguments about the least restrictive means of providing them. [page 46 of the majority opinion]

I’m not sure how the least restrictive means test would ever have a different result; after all, the government theoretically could step in and set up a program to cover any specific type of medical care. I think this comes down to “supported by different interests.”

Contraception is covered as part of standard insurance because the ability to plan and space pregnancies is good for women’s and children’s health. If the majority genuinely found that interest compelling, it would make no sense to argue that other coverage requirements might pass muster due to serving different (super-duper compelling?) interests. I don’t think they did, lip service to the contrary notwithstanding; there was not one mention in the opinion of the health benefits of family planning. It’s hard not to wonder whether the majority simply don’t think of contraception as “real medicine” like vaccines.

If HHS extends the religious nonprofit accommodation to cover closely-held corporations and if the court doesn’t strike down the accommodation, it may be that the practical effect of the decision is small. That’s the best-case scenario, and it’s certainly possible. No, SCOTUS didn’t ban birth control, and it’s not The Handmaid’s Tale. But it’s still a big deal.

What is family planning freedom? In short, it is the freedom to choose whether and when to attempt to conceive a child or to attempt to prevent conception, and to choose the prevention method that is best for one’s own life circumstances and health.

Even though most self-identifed pro-lifers favor family planning freedom, we haven’t succeeded in making our voices heard in the public sphere. Too often, pro-life advocates link opposition to abortion with opposition to family planning, and pro-choice advocates link support for family planning with support for abortion.

All Our Lives rejects this opposition. We have developed a presentation outlining ten ways in which family planning freedom is prolife:

  • It prevents millions of maternal and child deaths every year.
  • It measurably reduces abortion rates.
  • It is a critical solution to the overlapping injustices of violence against women and abortion.
  • Contraceptives truly prevent rather than take lives.
  • Contraception can be and is widely practiced without a “contraceptive mentality.”
  • Some contraceptives help prevent HIV/AIDS.
  • Most abortion opponents favor contraception.
  • Family planning freedom is a recognized universal human right, and one that encompasses all prevention methods.
  • Family planning freedom includes the freedom to bear children, and precludes forced sterilization and abortion.
  • Contraception secures the sexual/reproductive and life rights of people with disabilities.

We hope that you will be able to use this resource (now available in English & Spanish) in discussions with pro-lifers and pro-choicers alike.

 

VOLUNTEER TRANSLATORS NEEDED. We are looking especially for people who are fluent in both English and at least one of the remaining United Nations languages: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), French, and Russian. We also want to translate our presentation into Hindi, Polish, Portuguese, Swahili, Tagalog, and Urdu. Please contact volunteer at-sign allourlives dot org.

Personally, not speaking for All Our Lives as a whole, I feel a deep ambivalence about the focus on the Roe v. Wade anniversary in general and the March for Life in particular. That said, All Our Lives believes that being pro-life means being pro-everybody’s-life. That’s why we support the For Peace & ALL Life Meetup and March group at today’s event. Thanks for representing, folks, and keep warm!