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New Resource from All Our Lives: Help for Family Planning Advocates

One of our board members just gave a talk on “Family Planning: Myth, Reality, and the Lifesaving Power of Choice” at the Call to Action Conference, a large gathering of progressive US Catholics. The detailed, amply referenced handout from the presentation is useful for family planning advocates of all faiths and none. Like the presentation itself, it covers the following points.

–Family Planning Freedom Is A Universal Human Right.
–Family Planning Freedom Saves Lives.
–Pregnancy Prevention Choice Is Not Violence Against the Already-Born.
–Pregnancy Prevention Choice Is Not Violence Against the Unborn.
–Natural Family Planning Is A Good Answer for Some, But Not All.
–What You Can Do to Advocate for Family Planning Freedom!

You can download it as a free .pdf here.

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No excuse for failing to treat Savita Halappanavar

Savita Halappavanar’s death is outrageous, terrifying, sickening … who has enough adjectives for letting a woman die because “this is a Catholic country”?

Assuming that the Irish Times’ account of the horrific last few days of her life is accurate, Halappanavar’s doctors didn’t so much as start her on antibiotics until the third day of her miscarriage, when she was already very ill. They refused to induce delivery of her dying unborn child even as she became sicker and sicker from the infection that ultimately killed her. They claimed that Irish law would not allow them to do anything while there was still a fetal heartbeat — but that doesn’t seem to be the real reason for their refusal to save her life.

I’m neither a lawyer nor Irish, so I’m going to try not to comment in detail on specific points of Irish law when I’m not qualified to do so. That said, here’s what I do know:

  • The Irish Supreme Court ruled in the 1992 “X Case” that in cases where there is a “real and substantial” risk to the life of the mother that can only be avoided by the termination of her pregnancy, that termination is legally permissible.
  • The Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics For Registered Medical Practitioners of Ireland’s Medical Council states:

Abortion is illegal in Ireland except where there is a real and substantial risk to the life (as distinct from the health) of the mother. Under current legal precedent, this exception includes where there is a clear and substantial risk to the life of the mother arising from a threat of suicide. You should undertake a full assessment of any such risk in light of the clinical research on this issue.

It is lawful to provide information in Ireland about abortions abroad, subject to strict conditions.

You have a duty to provide care, support and follow-up services for women who have an abortion abroad.

In current obstetrical practice, rare complications can arise where therapeutic intervention (including termination of a pregnancy) is required at a stage when, due to extreme immaturity of the baby, there may be little or no hope of the baby surviving. In these exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary to intervene to terminate the pregnancy to protect the life of the mother, while making every effort to preserve the life of the baby.

Both of these point to a legal and medical consensus that Halappanavar should have been treated. Furthermore, there is no ethically defensible argument that she should have been left to die. Her child’s life could not be saved. It’s very possible that hers could have been. Letting her die gave no possible benefit to her child, flagrantly disregarded her own right to life, and has devastated her family.

Evelyn Fennely, an Irish supporter of All Our Lives, has also written a post on the Halappanavar case. She argues that under Irish law, medical standards, and even Catholic doctrine, inducing delivery or otherwise removing the dying child from her body to avoid further infection would not only be permissible, but would in fact be the standard and expected course of action.

The treatment that Savita Halappanavar required was legal and permitted under the Medical Council guidelines. Why did the medical team not induce as they could have? Was the doctor able to make a correct diagnosis? Was the doctor capable of performing treatments in such scenarios?

These questions should be answered as part of the three investigations that have been launched into the matter. Hopefully these investigations will explain why medical staff at UCHG did not provide treatment for miscarriage, when such medical treatment is legal and standard practice in cases such as Mrs. Halappanavar’s.

If the allegations that the medical team withheld treatment are true, I believe that we can expect the Medical Council to strike off the doctor(s) at the centre of the case. And doctors who withhold treatments and ignore the Council’s guidelines on best medical practice in such cases should be struck off the medical register.

The Medical Council is clear that in cases where the fetus is still alive, treatment is allowed even if “there is little of no hope of the baby surviving”. That she wasn’t treated is a failure of the hospital and medical team, not a problem with the law or with Medical Council guidelines. Necessary medical treatment during pregnancy, even if fetal death is inevitable, is legal in Ireland (and should remain so). In fact, it is standard medical procedure in cases like Savita Halappanavar’s to expediate delivery. She should not have been made to hang on for as long as she did – if the details that are being reported are correct, her case was grossly mismanaged.

Savita Halappanavar’s life was precious. It’s not “pro-life” to throw it away through medical negligence or incompetence, or out of some misguided and misogynistic notion that pregnant women have no right to save their own lives. And if in fact it is true, as some are arguing, that the hospital believed they might be legally liable for treating Halappanavar, that only underscores the need for legislation to clarify the fact that women have the right to life-saving medical care. (Although I have a hard time believing anyone thought they would go to jail for giving her antibiotics. Something else seems to have been happening here.)

Please email Enda Kenny, the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister), at taoiseach@taoiseach.gov.ie to say that you support an inquiry into why University Hospital Galway denied Savita Halappanavar treatment that she had every legal and moral right to.

Blog Posts, Past Actions

Take action for VAWA today

Today is the National Day of Action for the Violence Against Women Act.

It has been 679 days since VAWA expired, and 183 days since Congress’ last action on VAWA. It’s time for them to get back to work.

Call and tweet your Representatives and Senators today! If you’re tweeting, use the hashtag #PassVAWA2012. Tell them to pass a VAWA that safely and effectively protects all victims.

If your Senator is not on the list of cosponsors or if your Representative voted for the inferior House substitute bill, and if that person identifies as a pro-lifer, it may help to remind them of the links between violence against women, unintended pregnancy, and abortion. Let them know that you see ending violence against women as a pro-life issue.

By the end of the day, every Member of Congress will hear a unified message: Work out the differences, pass VAWA before this Congress ends and you go home for the holidays. Do not let VAWA die and miss this chance to help victims find shelter, help and justice. There is precious little time left and victims’ lives and futures are in the balance.

Pro-lifers: demand better (photo by nigsby on Flickr)
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Pro-lifers: demand better

So Todd Akin, who thinks that pregnancy resulting from rape is “really rare” because “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down,” announced yesterday that he is staying in the Missouri Senate race. I hardly know where to start. I guess a grounding in reality is the first order of business: Yes, of course women become pregnant as the result of rape. No, it’s not “really rare” — although few studies exist, the best available evidence indicates that the conception rate for rape is roughly equal to that for the average act of consensual PIV intercourse. No, there is no “certain secretion” that kills sperm when a woman is raped. That’s made up. No, it is not true that women who are “truly” raped can’t get pregnant because “the juices don’t flow.” That’s made up. No, even though ongoing stress can make conception and carrying to term more difficult for some women, the stress of being raped does not in itself make conception impossible or highly unlikely.

I think a lot of people don’t fully understand what the problem is with Akin’s statement. That a public figure is blithely, proudly ignorant about subjects on which he proposes to legislate is appalling. (I feel like I have to say that, because I’m not sure that’s something on which we agree as a country. Akin serves on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, after all.) But it’s so much more than that.

Women who have been raped automatically fall under suspicion in a way that virtually no other crime victims do. When was the last time you discussed a theft, and someone felt the need to disclaim that the victim might have actually wanted to give the thief money, or might be lying about the whole incident ever happening? That happens in virtually every discussion of rape outside of explicitly feminist and anti-rape spaces, even though evidence points to false accusations of rape being no more common than false accusations of other crimes, at between 2-8%.

So when Todd Akin and the people defending him claim that pregnancy due to “legitimate” rape (as Akin later clarified, he means “legitimate” as opposed to those cases where women are lying) is rare or impossible, they are doing two things. First of all, by accepting the double standard on the need for the “legitimate” qualifier, they are tacitly promoting the falsehood that women who say they have been raped are to be trusted less than people who report other crimes.

It gets worse. If a person believes that pregnancy due to rape is extremely rare, but lying about rape is common, what are they likely to believe when a woman says her pregnancy resulted from rape? That she’s lying. That she doesn’t need help, that she is someone who is trying to hurt others and not someone who has herself been hurt. If you think that what Akin said is OK, could you please try to imagine yourself in the shoes of that woman for just one minute?

By contributing to the suspicion that rape victims already face far too much of, Akin and those who defend his claims about pregnancy due to “legitimate” rape make it more likely that women will not report their rapes or will not be believed if they do. They make it more likely that rapists will get away with it and rape again. They also make it harder for women who have become pregnant as a result of rape to carry to term and raise their children. If a woman knows that she will be suspected of lying about her rape if her pregnancy becomes known, and might even have to share custody or allow visitation by her rapist, how much weight must that add to the abortion end of the scale?

This is rape culture. It hurts women. It hurts children conceived as a result of rape. It’s unacceptable.

What’s also unacceptable is all the apologism from groups saying we should ignore Akin’s “unfortunate” choice of words because he’s such a staunch defender of the unborn, and the only reason anyone would get so worked up about what he said is because they’re pro-abortion.

Missouri Right to Life apparently had no comment on the substance of Akin’s remarks, and would say only that they support him.

Connie Mackey, head of the Family Research Council’s PAC, said “I don’t know anything about the science or the legal implications of his statement. I do know politics, and I know gotcha politics when I see it.”

And worst of all, the Susan B. Anthony List, which disgracefully continues to use the name of one of America’s most prominent feminists, called Akin an “excellent partner in the fight for the unborn” and claimed that “Abortion supporters like Sen. Claire McCaskill are trying to use this issue as a smokescreen to hide from their radical, pro-abortion records.” As though there was no other reason to oppose Akin’s ignorant, harmful views.

Public Policy Polling found that only 9% of Missourians found Akin’s comments appropriate. (That’s somewhat cheering news, anyway.) I strongly doubt that 91% of Missourians are just trying to get Claire McCaskill elected.

Even if your idea of what “pro-life” means revolves solely around electing politicians who will vote for restrictions on abortion, one doesn’t have to support McCaskill to demand a better candidate than Akin. Akin can still withdraw in the next five weeks and be replaced. Is there really nobody better available? Are there no pro-life candidates who are knowledgeable and sensitive about women’s lives? And if not, if this is truly the best “pro-life” can muster, why would any decent human being want to identify with “pro-life”? About 75% of the time I don’t want to apply that label to myself, and these people are the reason. (The other 25%, I want to reclaim it.)

Even if the pro-life establishment can’t bring itself to demand better than ignorance and misogyny from its representatives, we can. We can contact Todd Akin’s office and explain to him how his comments hurt women. We can contact Missouri Right to Life and the Family Research Council and the Susan B. Anthony List and tell them that the cause of protecting human life before birth is not helped by spreading hurtful lies about women. We can tell them that hurting women is anti-life. We can tell them that we won’t stand for being represented by people like Todd Akin, and they shouldn’t either.

Blog Posts, Past Actions

We’re in the Financial Times–With a Lot of Company

Because of the London Family Planning Summit, the British newspaper Financial Times has just published a special report on sexual and reproductive health.

And we get a little mention in at least the print and .pdf versions–see page 6, under the “North America” heading (although we would have preferred “Global.”) We join nearly 1300 other civil society organizations, many from the Two Thirds World, who agree that “Family Planning Saves Lives.”

You can also see the full list of endorsers here.

We are not specifically mentioned, but we are also one of the 200-plus organizational members of the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition, whose ad appears on page 1 of the Financial Times report.

The ad mentions “unsafe abortion” as one consequence of lacking contraceptive access. All abortions are unsafe for unborn children. Some are maternally unsafe as well.

Wonder if any other endorsers of the civil society declaration would agree with us.

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All Our Lives Endorses Two Critical Global Declarations on Family Planning

Next month in London, England, the British government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will convene a global summit on family planning. All Our Lives has endorsed two important human rights declarations created in anticipation of the summit.

“Women’s Human Rights Must be at the Center of the Family Planning Summit” warns:

Our experience, built over decades of work around the world, has taught us that the failure to take actions guided by women’s human rights – to health, to life, to live free from discrimination among others – can have devastating consequences. Policies that accept or tacitly condone forced sterilization, the coercive provision of contraceptives, and the denial of essential services to the young, poor and marginalized women that need them every day have violated, and continue to violate, women’s human rights.

Nearly twenty years ago, governments at the [1994 Cairo] International Conference on Population and Development agreed that respect for women’s reproductive autonomy is the cornerstone of population policy. Any return to coercive family planning programs where quality of care and informed consent are ignored would be both shocking and retrograde.

A global letter of support for the summit emphasizes a program of action to increase family planning access to the millions of human beings who currently lack it.

We applaud the London Summit on Family Planning for its commitment to work with poor and vulnerable populations to increase individual awareness, address socio-cultural barriers, and increase community acceptability of family planning, including comprehensive sexuality education. In particular, we applaud the initiative’s emphasis on empowering women and girls, and delivery through increased service provision. We encourage you to focus on providing information and services to those who have historically faced poor access to family planning, especially young people, poor women, people with disabilities; rural, indigenous, displaced and post crisis populations. Similarly, we encourage you to make linkages to other programmes including those for economic development, education (especially for girls), environmental protection, HIV/AIDS,maternal and child health, security and youth.

We commit to working with communities and reaching poor and vulnerable women and girls with evidence-based information so that they can make informed choices regarding their fertility and choice of contraceptive method.

Yes and yes. If we are the sole prolife group signing on to these statements, well, it’s got to start somewhere.

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Two Media Appearances for All Our Lives–With Problematic Labels

On Truthout, Eleanor J. Bader favorably mentions All Our Lives in her article Criminalizing Pregnancy: How Feticide Laws Made Common Ground for Pro- and Anti-Choice Groups.

Although…it would be nice not to be called “anti-choice.” It’s not what we call ourselves, and in fact we are about creating and expanding other and better choices than abortion. “Anti-choice” suggests a categorical opposition to women’s self-determination. It does not fit us.

Daily Cloudt, a new activism platform, is running as its lead story an article I wrote about why All Our Lives, in contrast to Feminists for Life, works for family planning freedom. Unfortunately, the site put a title and a summary on the article that are more antagonistic than I wanted them to be.

Probably it is better to be heard under a problematic label than not to be heard at all. Maybe someday. Though today would be preferable.

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act protects life, health, and jobs (photo by wunkaiwang on Flickr)
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Pregnant Workers Fairness Act protects life, health, and jobs

Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Susan Davis (D-CA) and George Miller (D-CA), and a total of 78 co-sponsors have introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. PWFA would require companies to provide pregnant employees with the same types of accommodations that are required for disabled workers under the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to Nadler’s office:

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will accomplish this by requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers and preventing employers from forcing women out on leave when another reasonable accommodation would allow them to continue working.  The bill also bars employers from denying employment opportunities to women based on their need for reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

In recent and startling examples, Heather Wiseman, a retail worker in Salina, Kansas, was fired because she needed to carry a water bottle to stay hydrated and prevent bladder infections; Victoria Serednyj, an activity director at a nursing home in Valparaiso, Indiana, was terminated because she required help with some physically strenuous aspects of her job to prevent having another miscarriage; and Peggy Young, a delivery truck driver in Landover, Maryland, was forced out on unpaid leave because she had a lifting restriction and was denied light duty.  For the well-being of pregnant workers, and for the sake of the economic stability of American families, our laws must be updated and clarified.

The National Women’s Law Center has more information in their PWFA factsheet.

Preventing pregnant mothers from having to choose between the jobs they need to provide for their families on one hand, and their own health and the health of their unborn children on the other, seems like the least a country that aspires to be “pro-family” can do. If you agree and you are in the U.S., please contact your Representative to ask him or her to cosponsor the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, H.R. 5647.

gavel, law book, scales of justice
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All Our Lives Joins Amicus Brief in Alabama Substance Abuse Cases

Joining over 40 other organizations concerned about maternal and child health and welfare, All Our Lives has signed onto an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief documenting the many evidence-based reasons why the State of Alabama should not criminalize substance using pregnant women.

One reason is that women will feel pressure to have abortions because substance abuse treatment is so difficult for them to access during pregnancy and they fear prosecution. Yet this criminalization is pushed in the name of establishing rights for unborn children! Punishing women and driving up the abortion rate doesn’t accomplish that in the real world.

We signed onto the brief after reaching out to National Advocates for Pregnant Women, in response to an RH Reality Check article by their attorneys Lynn Paltrow and Emma Ketteringham, Now It’s Clear: Pro-Life Means Pro-Imprisonment.

It doesn’t have to. And it won’t, if we can at all help it!

Thanks especially to Emma Ketteringham for her help.

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Why Lila Rose Doesn’t Even Speak for Pro-Life Feminists

(A recent article by the wellknown antiabortionist Lila Rose has frustrated our board members, some of whom campaigned for contraception before she was even born. We privately and publicly asked Rose several times to engage with us on this matter, but have to date gotten no response from her. Thanks to Fem 2.0 for publishing our response.)

Lila Rose, founder of the controversial anti-abortion group Live Action, recently penned an article on Politico entitled “Battle Hymn of the Anti-Abortion Feminist.” As board members of All Our Lives, an unapologetically feminist organization whose (interfaith, nonsectarian, secular) mission is to alleviate the societal problems responsible for so many abortions, we are outraged by Rose’s presumption that she speaks for us. Starting with that militaristic title…

(Read the rest at Fem 2.0…)