Hate Sites Using the Wider Abortion Argument to Spread Racism and Extremism

By Anthony Crider; cropped by Beyond My Ken (talk) 20:37, 9 April 2018 (UTC) – Charlottesville “Unite the Right” Rally, CC BY 2.0,

White supremacists are using the debate around women’s reproductive rights to promote racist and extremist agendas, finds a new study released today – following news on Friday that millions of women in the US will lose the constitutional right to abortion.

US white nationalists are heading on to a Neo-Nazi website, ‘Stormfront’, in order to recruit more people to their way of thinking. Whilst online they describe abortions by white women, as ‘murder’ and look to “weaponize” the procedure. However, the extremists reason abortion by non-white women as ‘acceptable’ or even ‘desirable’ because, they argue, the procedure could solve threats to white dominance – including the “urgent need to limit third world populations”.

The findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal Information, Communication & Society, come following a detailed computer-aided analysis of more than 30,000 posts, spanning over two decades on the site.

The study authors warn that their evidence highlights how white extremists “weaponize” abortion arguments to attract recruits, using the political debate as a gateway argument that invites them to dive deeper into white male supremacy ideology.

“Our study shows that science, medicine, and conspiracy theories meet on the dark corners of the internet,” says lead researcher Dr. Yotam Ophir at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, USA.

“The result is the creation and spread of dangerous racist and misogynistic ideas. These are often born in extremists’ platforms, but have spilled over into mainstream politics and discourse.”

Abortion rights are a fiercely contested issue in the US. On Friday, the Supreme Court overturned its 50-year-old Roe v Wade decision, in a judgment that therefore entitles individual states to ban the procedure.

Specifically, in this research, Dr. Ophir and his team wanted to better understand how white nationalists not only use abortion debates online to further their cause, but also apply different moral standards to whites and non-whites.

By analyzing posts made between 2001 and 2017 on Stormfront – a discussion board founded by former Ku Klax Klansman, Don Black – the authors found a marked difference in the way far-right extremists conceptualized abortions for whites versus non-whites.

Abortions among white women were described as ‘murder’. Using an entire topic labeled ‘avoid abortions’, Stormfront users accused white women considering terminations as being “deeply unethical” and even “treasonous” to the white race and their gender role. For example, talking about abortions among white women, a user stated that “abortion is the worst thing of all, it is killing a child. Killing a child is worse than bringing him/her up without a father. Adoption is always an option”.

Whereas with non-white women, posts often excused abortion: in order to limit non-white populations.

The authors say that such discourse could be used to recruit members and to “normalize extreme, racist ideologies”.

To protect the public, Dr. Ophir says people, including children, need better tools to navigate the “misleading information environment that is the 21st century”.

Additional themes identified on Stormfront included “The Great Replacement conspiracy theory” – a supposed plot to replace white people with non-white immigrants that is said to have inspired the Buffalo grocery store killings suspect.

Something, which Dr. Ophir and colleagues argue needs more attention from the mainstream press, as they are concerned there is a spread of the ‘great replacement conspiracy’.

“Potential solutions should not end with social media and the internet. We also need to pay more attention to the rise of such conspiratorial thinking among television channels like Fox News and prominent political figures,” he says.

Stormfront posts analyzed by the team were supplied to the researchers by the Southern Poverty Law Center and by other academics.

The site is focused on propagating white nationalism, antisemitism, and islamophobia, as well as anti-Hinduism, anti-feminism, homophobia, transphobia, Holocaust denial, anti-Catholicism, and white supremacy. As of 2015, the Stormfront website was estimated to have more than 300,000 registered members.

The Process of Seeking a Judicial Bypass for Abortion May Harm Adolescents

By Kate Coleman-Minahan & Amanda Stevenson

Seventeen-year-old Jane played soccer and dreamed of going to Texas A&M. When she saw the positive pregnancy test, she started to cry. “I want to give my kid everything, the best, better than I have. And I knew I couldn’t do that.” Jane had always been “against abortion.” But, she said, “it was my turn to make the decision and I realized that it was the best decision for me.” She also knew obtaining consent for an abortion from her parents was not a possibility. Her father had told her in the past, “I’ll disown you. You don’t exist to me if you ever [get pregnant].”

Jane lives in Texas, where adolescents under 18 years old are forced by law to obtain parental consent for abortion care. While most pregnant adolescents involve a parent in their abortion decision, some do not live with a parent or fear that disclosing the pregnancy and desire for abortion will endanger them. Some young people, like Jane, have very reasonable fears of being kicked out or emotionally or physically abused. Adolescents living in Texas who cannot, do not want to, or are afraid to involve a parent in their decision must use the courts to ask a judge for a bypass of parental consent. Little is known about adolescents’ experiences with the judicial bypass process. In order to investigate, we interviewed 20 adolescents who sought judicial bypass in Texas in 2015 or 2016. The research team included co-investigators from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, an attorney, and a case manager at Jane’s Due Process, a non-profit organization in Texas providing legal representation for pregnant adolescents.

Burdensome, Unpredictable, and Traumatic

Our research participants described a highly burdensome, frightening, and humiliating process. Adolescents seeking bypass must go to the courthouse, interview with a court-appointed guardian-ad-litem (GAL), and stand before a randomly assigned judge to prove that they are either mature and well-informed or that parental consent is not in their best interest. Even though the legal standards that judges are required to follow are clear, the process as revealed in our interviews was largely unpredictable. Adolescents had to find transportation and take time away from home and school, risking discovery by their parents – the very reason they sought bypass in the first place. Some participants had their bypass granted just a few days after contacting Jane’s Due Process for resources; others, like Jane, experienced delays of over a month, only to be denied. They experienced “fight or flight” responses such as nausea and shaking and feared that saying the wrong thing could mean being forced to carry the pregnancy to term. Some GALs – often those affiliated with a local church – “preached at them” or told them, as Jane experienced, that “it’s never the right option to have an abortion.” Another participant was humiliated by her GAL who “laughed in the courtroom… making fun of me.” Some judges humiliated the adolescents by asking extremely private and sensitive questions about their sexual histories.

Even before our participants started the bypass process, they anticipated and experienced abortion stigma from others, including friends and teachers – a major reason many chose to keep their decision private. Although the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine find that abortion is safe and not associated with psychological consequences, many participants feared physical or emotional harm from the abortion, often because they felt they should be punished for doing something that they were told by others – including GALs and even judges – was morally wrong. That authority figures could convince these young women that they alone deserved punishment for making sexual health choices is ironic, given that Texas rarely provides comprehensive sex education in public schools and denies access to contraception without parental consent.

Furthermore, the humiliation and shame caused by the judicial bypass process may cause lasting trauma. Other research has shown that adverse childhood experiences, stigma, and trauma are all associated with long-term consequences, including depression, anxiety, isolation, and hesitancy to seek health care. Although proponents of the judicial bypass process claim it protects adolescents from harm, it instead appears to cause harm. Our findings lead us to ask: Are parental involvement laws protecting adolescent health and well-being, or are they a tool for adults who oppose abortion rights to restrict access to abortion care and shame adolescents, particularly young women, for their sexuality?

Putting Adolescents’ Health and Well-Being First

Allowing adolescents to make their own decisions about their bodies and futures and to choose who they want to involve in sexual health decisions protects their health and well-being. Our and others’ research suggests that forcing young people to involve adults who may harm them, exposing them to humiliation and trauma through a judicial bypass, and potentially forcing them to carry a pregnancy to term is counterproductive and is not in the best interest of young women. Instead, we should:

  • Respect adolescent autonomy. When adolescents express fear of emotional or physical abuse, they should be trusted and allowed to decide who to involve in their pregnancy decisions.
  • Ensure consistent application of bypass laws. States that continue to force parental involvement must mandate that the process be free from GALs and judges’ interjection of their personal opinions on abortion and provide a timely and effective remedy when they do.
  • Provide free and confidential access to the full range of contraceptive options to adolescents so they may better control if and when they want to parent.
  • Give non-judgmental, confidential, accurate sexual health information. Those who work with young people should follow the recommendations of organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Right before Jane’s judge denied her bypass, Jane declared, “You guys keep telling me I’m not mature enough to make this decision and I don’t know what I’m getting myself into, yet if I’m not mature enough to make a decision like this how am I mature enough to even have a baby and to go through the emotional and physical changes of having a kid?” Jane saw the illogic of the bypass system even as court officials refused to do so. If states like Texas truly want to protect young people from physical and emotional harm, accurate and stigma-free health education and a judicial system that truly respects the autonomy of adolescents must be ensured.

The Abortion Barriers and Needs of Black Women

By Daniela Mansbach & Alisa Von Hagel

Anti-abortion organizations aim to make abortion illegal for all women – or, barring that, to make abortion as difficult as possible to access. The war on abortion access has many fronts, including mandated delays, special counseling rules, and rules limiting the reasons a woman can offer for wanting to end her pregnancy. At the end of 2017, for example, Ohio passed a law that bans abortion for women whose fetuses have been diagnosed with Downs Syndrome. Ten states bar women from ending pregnancies based on the sex of their fetus, and some state legislatures are currently considering similar bans for abortions based on race. Regardless of the intention of these laws, they create barriers to reproductive care and can also ignore the typical reasons women seek abortions – because the pregnancy was unintended and unwanted and they do not believe they can financially provide for a new child. Many barriers to abortion disproportionately affect Black women.

How the Anti-Abortion Movement Makes Racial Arguments

As part of their broader strategy to restrict access to abortion, many pro-life organizations claim that higher rates of abortion for Black women are evidence of racism on the part of abortion providers and advocates. Of the 160 pro-life websites we surveyed in the course of our research, almost 20% make this claim explicitly, arguing that abortion clinics and doctors target minority women in a systematic and purposeful way. The organizations that link abortion with race often compare abortion with the Holocaust, genocide, and slavery. For example, one such group, Abortion in the Hood, uses images of the Planned Parenthood symbol and the Confederate flag under the headline “which one kills 266 black lives everyday?” One of the most radical organizations we studied, Klan Parenthood, goes so far as to equate pro-choice advocates to Klan members, featuring an image of a doctor wearing a Klan outfit with the slogan: “Abortion, because Lynching is for Amateurs” on their website’s homepage.

Pro-life organizations deploy such messaging about increased abortion rates for Black women to argue that the fight against abortion is the civil-rights struggle of the day, co-opting the rhetoric of anti-racism movements. For example, the anti-abortion group Protecting Black Lives writes that “if the current trend [in abortion rates] continues, the black community may cease to make a significant positive contribution in society.” A similar organization, Black Genocide, emphasizes the political implications of abortion, falsely stating that African-Americans “are the only minority in America that is on the decline in population. If the current trend continues, by 2038 the black vote will be insignificant.” While some might assume these extreme comparisons and imagery would be relegated to the fringe of the abortion debate, they actually have a direct – and growing – effect on state-level policy. This is evident in the increase in laws that restrict access to abortion based on the race of the baby. One such example is the passage of an Arizona law in 2011 that banned abortions based on the race of the fetus, justifying it as a tool for addressing “race-related discrimination that exists in Arizona and throughout the nation.”

The Real Link between Racism and Reproductive Health

Anti-abortion groups find it possible to make extreme racial claims because statistics, such as data from the Guttmacher Institute, show that women of color have higher abortion rates than white women. Despite significant declines for all groups in the past decade, women of color still obtain abortions at a rate two to three times higher than the rate for white women. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, while non-Hispanic Black women account for only 13.3% of the U.S. population, they receive approximately 35% of all abortions.

Yet even though it is accurate to say that Black women have higher rates of abortions in proportion to their share of the general population, research shows that this is due to higher rates of unintended pregnancy among women of color in general, and Black women in particular. When researchers control for rates of unintended pregnancies, Black women do not have a higher percentage of abortions.

  • In 2008, 69% of all pregnancies among Black women were unintended, compared to 56% of pregnancies unintended for Hispanic women and 42% unintended for white women.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control, from 2006 to 2010, 9% of births to non-Hispanic white women were defined as unwanted, compared to 18% for Hispanic women and 23% for Black women.

The percentage of unwanted pregnancies that end in birth rather than abortion suggests that Black women are actually more likely than women of other races to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. Further, given that many more of their pregnancies are unintended, it is not surprising that the abortion rates of Black women are higher than those of white and Hispanic women.

Why do minority women in the United States have higher rates of unintended pregnancies? There are many reasons, but limited access to affordable and effective contraception is among the most important causes. Limited access, in turn, is often attributed to funding cuts to programs that provide contraception to low-income and minority communities, plus the scarcity of reproductive healthcare providers in neighborhoods where high concentrations of minority women live and work. Other recent studies – such as the Turnaway Study of women who did and did not receive desired abortions – find that many women of all races cite economic reasons for terminating a pregnancy.

The overall picture is that Black women in the United States often face difficult socio-economic circumstances, which influence their reproductive access and choices. As long as pervasive racial disparities in health care and economic wellbeing persist, Black women will face disproportionate risks of unintentional pregnancy – and many of them, as well as many white women, will choose abortion.

Abortion providers are hardly the ones discriminating against Black women. Instead, they are trying to address their needs and choices. Abortion providers will continue to serve the unmet needs of Black women who are making the best parenting decisions they can for themselves and their families.

The Future of Criminal Prosecution for Self-Induced Abortion & Pregnancy Endangerment

The intensifying avalanche of restrictive U.S. abortion laws since 2012 has made it more difficult for many people to terminate their pregnancies. These restrictions have also had the effect of increasing what are considered illegal abortions. But the face of illegal abortion has shifted since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court. Today’s procedures rarely resemble the back-alley abortions of the past, given the availability of medications that can effectively induce abortions and the rise of the internet as a tool women can use to procure such medications and to learn how to use them. Some things, however, have not changed. Just as pregnant women were sometimes prosecuted after aborting or attempting to abort pregnancies in the pre-Roe era, pregnant women today are still sometimes prosecuted for similar acts, even if the exact methods are different.

In the United States, pregnancy occupies a contradictory socio-legal space. For many, pregnancy and resultant parenthood are much desired (and encouraged) conditions. But being pregnant can also result in the loss of important constitutional rights, including rights to privacy, liberty, and free religious expression, along with rights to due process, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, and equal protection. Because of the potential for such lost rights, my research argues that pregnancy legally creates a lower class of person – a situation I call “pregnancy exceptionalism.” Pregnant women hold a tenuous position under the law if they go outside legally recognized methods of abortion, either by choice or because are otherwise unable to access those methods. An examination of recent instances in which pregnant women have been prosecuted offers possible clues as to future directions of the law, insofar as reductions in pregnancy prevention services continue along with erosion of legal options for ending pregnancies.

Prosecuting Pregnant Women

Three states – Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee – have expanded criminal law through legislatures or courts to include what they define as “unborn children.” My research on these three states has identified nearly 900 cases of arrest of pregnant or formerly pregnant people for terminating, attempting to terminate, or otherwise causing harm to their pregnancies between 1973 and 2016. In all three states, arrests of pregnant women for these offenses occurred before formal definitions were entered into the code of law.

Other states have taken similar steps. To date, every state but Vermont and Delaware has participated in the arrest and prosecution of pregnant women, allegedly in defense of their embryos and fetuses. Most of these arrests have involved pregnant women or newborns who tested positive for drugs, but cases involving attempted suicide have also been documented. One woman who attempted to evade the police was additionally charged with reckless endangerment of a minor because she was running while pregnant. Mysteriously, two women were charged with crimes against their “unborn children” but were later released when they were found not to have been pregnant in the first place. Other arrests occurred when pregnant women attempted to abort their pregnancies illegally, or were accused of doing so.

Prosecutions of pregnant women have gotten little public attention, with some exceptions in cases where medical providers reported women who were later prosecuted:

  • In Indiana in 2013, a woman named Purvi Patel was hiding a pregnancy from her conservative Hindu parents. She expressed some ambivalence about the pregnancy and texted a friend about procuring abortion pills online. After having a miscarriage at her family’s restaurant, Patel placed the fetus in the dumpster. She eventually went to the hospital, where policy interrogated her. Later, she was arrested for causing the fetus’s death, convicted and sentenced to two concurrent 20-year sentences. An appeals court later vacated the feticide charge and reduced her sentence to 18 months.

  • In Tennessee in 2015, Anna Yocca allegedly attempted to perform a self-induced abortion using a wire clothes hanger. At 24 weeks pregnant, Yocca would have needed to travel to Washington, New York, Maryland, or Colorado to obtain a legal abortion. When she began to bleed heavily, her boyfriend drove her to the emergency room. She received medical care and her baby survived, although the baby was born prematurely and likely to have lifelong disabilities. After Yocca’s healthcare providers notified police that Yocca made “disturbing” statements about wanting to end the pregnancy, she was charged and arrested for attempted murder.

Key Questions for Continued Research

As nascent research proceeds on prosecutions of pregnant women dealing with new legal restrictions, many important questions remain to be investigated:

  • How and why are people pursuing illegal abortion in the United States?

  • How has illegal abortion changed since Roe v. Wade, both legally and practically?

  • How are state legislatures and courts addressing illegal abortion?

  • What are the characteristics of criminal cases brought against women who have sought or procured illegal abortion?

  • What are the legal arguments used in making these criminal prosecutions?

No matter the answers to these questions, it is already clear that as legal abortion becomes harder to access, women will likely seek extra-legal means of terminating undesired pregnancies, even if such efforts may result in their prosecution and imprisonment. As researchers examine the safety of newer medications and technologies for self-induced abortions, they must also explore the legal risks and treatment facing people who make use of those methods. The possibility that a new Supreme Court majority may overturn Roe v. Wade or further eviscerate legal abortion rights warrants a thorough examination of the precedents that will go into adjudicating cases like those of Puri Patel and Anna Yocca that, while rare in the past, may appear more frequently in the future. More research now can help all concerned be better prepared for the new legal as well as medical world that may arrive as legal abortions become more circumscribed in the United States.

Abortion Laws, Feminism, Politics, and Neoliberal Societies in Developed Nations

Re-conceptualizing restrictive abortion laws with a sex equality framework allow us to identify the limitations of women living in developed nations to act in a free manner with their physical bodies as men do. On many occasions, rules, regulations, and laws are enforced to reduce chaos/harm, but the same is similarly used to limit the freedoms of the individual which can also be oppressive in itself.

Historically, anti-abortive attitudes were prominent and common due to societies ignorance of scientific knowledge surrounding an embryo. Often when a pregnancy was declared, the fetus had already grown to a more formed stage which made abortion seem more of inhumane act. Early feminists radically opposed abortion claiming it was “child murder” that exploited both women and children. The core of the radical feminist’s argument was to ‘protect women at the embryonic stage’, hence leading to the anti-pro choice view.

Today, the attitudes of radical feminists have progressed to campaigning to eliminate the ‘root causes’ which drives women to abortion such as providing access to free childcare, financial support and enabling access to practical resources. Modern feminism has not adopted the ‘extreme’ stances of the past which have led to tensions within feminist communities. Depending on the feminist spectrum, some radical feminists believe motherhood is an obligation of womanhood while others may renounce the obligation of motherhood despite being financially and resource able to do so.

Modern feminism is defined in a variety of ways which is then filtered through our many lived experiences. One of the most basic and foundational definitions of feminism is the “advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of sexes”. The origins of the feminism began in the 1950s as a movement in the USA inspired by Betty Friendan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, which inspired women to pursue goals of freedom and autonomy.

The feminist anti-abortion arguments come with a variety of justifications for its campaigns – religious (when does life begin?); scientific (damaging a females body?); conservative (securing the future of mankind); power (forcing restrictive laws on women to exert power and control, potentially for political grounds).

Let us contextualize some of the laws in developed nations where women are forced to abide by policies informed by these anti-abortion justifications:

El Salvador – Illegal under every circumstance (rape, ill physical and mental health. Women can be jailed for up to a decade for performing the procedure. It is noted that low-income women who have miscarriages and stillbirths may be prosecuted due to being wrongly accused of abortion or homicide (White-Lebhar, 2018).

Alabama, United States of America – Illegal under every circumstance. What is concerning about this case though, is that it was only just voted in (last month), meaning that the senator they have in office today, have these views.

Northern Ireland – Illegal under every circumstance (including a result of rape). Medical professionals are afraid to provide their candid opinions about the health of the pregnant female and/or the fetus due to repercussions.

Under further examination, these laws celebrate a lack of individualization and are enforced by these powerful societal structures. Women are forced to adhere to laws derived from cultural and/or religious values in which they may not believe or practice. As Social Workers, our ethical practices use a person-centered approach with a systematic theoretical underpinning of self-determination for those we serve.

This approach applauds the unique and individual dynamic in one’s life and that these dynamics are even more special when they interact with their environment (person-in-context). No one person’s issue is perceived or dealt with in the same manner – social work theory acknowledges these humanistic values yet, we are forced to operate in neoliberal societies where under resourced service providers do not have the capacity and flexibility to approach each client uniquely.

Our role working within the abortion context means we can advocate change on multiple levels – through therapeutic supporting (counselling); by advocating for policy changes by sparking dynamic public discourse (policy); educating generations of women on abortion in an impartial manner (education) and much more. Our perspectives on the matter, and with feminism itself, comes from the top down – our attitudes are shaped by the leaders we have, whether they conflict or reflect our beliefs.

Relieving restrictions surrounding abortion isn’t only about the freedom of choice for women, it’s also an opportunity to examine and identify where first world nations fall short in imploring the sense of freedom we so frequently advertise to eastern societies and third world nations. Developed nations are allowing powerful politics driven by strong single-sided opinions often funded by the wealthiest ten percent of the world decide about life, death, family, and women health decisions.

There are no solidified answers on what restrictive abortion laws mean for women and feminism – whether regressive or progressive for the feminist movement. Whether we identify with feminism and all that it embodies or not, we are ultimately shaped by the societal constructs we were influenced by in our youth and our family values. However, context changes through life experience and transcultural immersions. Therefore, we must evolve individually and collectively.

Our society is ever changing in this way and essentially to be progressive on these fronts, decision making regarding policy should evolve towards being free of judgment, opinions, religion, and power – thinking about individual lives at the core is crucial. Some may view this perspective as idealistic, especially in countries where government structures have the funds to create change, but government money is alternatively utilized to support the community as a whole with supports mainstreamed, directly conflicting with the individualistic nature of social work approaches.

The Impact of Recent Court Decisions on Abortion Access

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Protesters hold signs in support of Obamacare’s birth control mandate CREDIT: THINKPROGRESS/SY MUKHERJEE

In the recent Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision Whole Women’s Health v Hellerstat, it was determined that Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws create an undue burden for women seeking abortion.  In the latest ruling in Alaska, the decision overturned their state-level parental notification law because it violated the Alaskan constitution. These decisions have begun to unmask biased, unscientific abortion policies in the United States, and they should be celebrated everywhere as monumental victories for client self-determination and human rights.

These rulings represent the possibility that the tables may be turning in favor of fact-based abortion policy. Also, they give advocates in this area hope that when abortion policy represents a biased, undue burden, as TRAP laws and parental notice laws do, they will be considered and ruled as such.

These cases also create precedents for the contemplation of the undue burden created by other laws restricting abortion, including mandatory waiting periods, which strip self-determination from social work clients, likely causing secondary trauma when clients are attempting to access a routine health procedure that is safe and absolutely legal in the United States.

The removal of these additional legislative barriers are a particular triumph for social work clients, who at the very moment of this ruling were already finding it harder and harder to access abortion because of the burden of pseudoscientific policy restrictions. These restrictions have been implemented at unprecedented levels since the 2010 midterm elections. Abortion access is such a problem in Texas that women were already attempting to end their own unwanted pregnancies without medical intervention which harkens back to the days of illegal abortion.

While these rulings will not address all abortion access problems immediately, they represent a rational response to moralized abortion policy, which will keep clinics open in Texas and facilitate abortion access for adolescents in Alaska that is on par with that of adults.

The impact of these decisions is also distinct because they expose the intent of the policies, which was to make abortion inaccessible by victimizing vulnerable patients with unnecessary regulation, while couching the laws as means to make abortion safer, when abortion services were already safely provided for both adults and adolescents under existing clinic regulations.

Current decisions are drawing attention to the rhetoric falsely decrying a need for women’s safety in the form of TRAP laws. They expose the actuality that unnecessary abortion regulation decreases family safety by impeding the timing and spacing of births and sets the stage for forced pregnancies similar to those experienced by women in countries like Ireland and Nicaragua where abortion is illegal outright.

TRAP and parental consent laws have been exposed as tools of oppression used by politically motivated legislators to cut off access to abortion for a subset of the population. They also bring to the forefront the understanding that abortion is a low-risk procedure that can be safely performed in clinic environments under existing regulations, for both adults and adolescents.

These decisions also expose the conflict between politically motivated abortion policy in the United States and a sound public health approach to the reproductive health needs of vulnerable groups, by demonstrating that unscientific abortion policy keeps economically disadvantaged women from accessing abortion, while merely inconveniencing adult women of means who have the resources needed to overcome the restrictions. Additionally, these rulings open the door for a scientific presence in our nation’s understanding of abortion and the laws and policies that govern it, because if we can demonstrate that these laws are thinly-veiled attempts to restrict abortion access, then we can demonstrate that the other laws are too.

The overturning of these laws has not created a panacea for abortion access in the United States.  During the time SCOTUS was considering their case, new anti-abortion tactics designed to stigmatize abortion were implemented in the form of fetal pain and funeral policies, which took effect over the summer and spring.

These pseudoscientific laws are currently traumatizing abortion patients who are already facing difficult decisions around unwanted pregnancies that are often surrounded by trauma. Moreover, these laws highlight how out of touch state legislators made up of primarily white, upper-class men are with the best interests of their constituents. They also reflect an ongoing preoccupation with promoting abortion stigma to the detriment of addressing other pressing social issues such as poverty and economic development.

The SCOTUS ruling does not address the Hyde amendment, which restricts all federal funding of abortion in programs such as Medicaid, military health programs and prison health programs. Hyde prevents low income women, and women of color who are more likely to live in poverty and rely on Medicaid, from accessing abortion. This is a prime time for social work advocates to highlight the burdens that Hyde creates, which include completely blocking access to the procedure for those who cannot gather the funds for it.  Social work advocates can call attention to the ongoing burden of Hyde by lobbying for the law’s repeal.

In order to support self-determination, the National Association of Social Workers advocates access to all forms of reproductive health services, including abortion. If we are to achieve social justice for women and pregnant people in the United States, it is imperative that social work capitalizes on these recent rulings to revive our advocacy efforts in this area and work to eliminate pseudoscience in remaining abortion policy.

Write about abortion, talk about abortion, normalize abortion and contact legislators to voice support for our clients needing access to abortion. These rulings represent the tables turning towards a more scientific approach to abortion in the United States, and if we make the best use of this opportunity we can lead the way towards rational abortion policy in that promotes access to the full range of reproductive health options for all clients everywhere.

Social Work Students Defend Planned Parenthood Against Deceitful Smear Campaign

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As Social Work students, we are concerned about the deceitful attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides vital health care services to 2.7 million Americans each year. In Louisiana alone, Planned Parenthood annually provides 16,000 visits in both Baton Rouge and New Orleans for services that include birth control, cancer screenings, STD tests and treatment, and other preventative healthcare such as much-needed sexual health education.

This smear campaign is part of a 10-plus year pattern of harassment and violence by extremists whose focus is banning abortion and preventing women from accessing preventive health care at Planned Parenthood health centers. The group behind this video smear campaign is a part of the most militant wing of the anti-abortion movement. They have been behind the bombing of clinics, and the murder of doctors in their homes and in their churches. This group has zero credibility. They set up a fake company. It appears that they used fake government IDs. They’ve even filed fraudulent tax documents and have completely lied about who they are and what they do all in an effort to end safe and legal abortion and bring down Planned Parenthood.

Additionally, we would like to clarify a few things for readers. Donating fetal tissue is a common medical procedure that goes to research seeking to cure Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. The only monetary transaction in the video discussed was standard reimbursement costs. There is nothing in these videos that suggest any violation of law, and these tapes are heavily doctored. The clips take the conversations out of context, while the full tapes show the doctors in question state repeatedly that Planned Parenthood does not profit from the consensual donation of fetal tissue.

Furthermore, we want to clarify that Planned Parenthood does not receive federal funding for abortion services. Federal funds are restricted from funding these services by the Hyde Amendment. What the money does fund is healthcare for people who need it. In Louisiana, we have a dearth of healthcare services for low-income people, made worse in recent years.

Social workers see the tragic consequences of lack of health care every day. Per the CDC New Orleans is number two in the nation for HIV infections, and Baton Rouge is number three per capita. People here are struggling with higher-than-average rates of chronic illnesses, and they cannot afford to find treatment. Social Work Students United for Reproductive Freedom (SWURF) does not see this as a pro-choice versus pro-life issue. We see it as a human rights issue. It is about the right to have freedom over one’s body without government intervention. It is about the health of Louisiana women, men, and children. For those reasons, we support Planned Parenthood.

Social Work Students United for Reproductive Freedom – Tulane University Student Members

Kara Cohen, Dana Carbo, Emily Costello, Miriam Eisenstat, Livia Harkow, Becca Hutchinson, Catherine Kelleher, Alex Loizias, Val Lippman, Cat Patteson, Charles Schully, Miranda Stone

For Information, contact us on Facebook at Social Work Students United for Reproductive Freedom or on Twitter at @tulaneSWURF

Press Release: Social Work Helper was not involved in the creation of this content.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Preventative Health for Women

 

diverse-group-of-womenThere are several elements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that will majorly impact our healthcare system, but one of the most important new provisions is preventative measures for women’s healthcare.  Although certain preventative measures are allowed under the ACA, there are still certain employers who are exempt when it comes to providing contraceptive coverage in their healthcare plans. However, there are plenty of measures that are covered under the plan and will truly benefit women all over the country including well woman exams, breast exams, STI & HIV screenings and counseling and screening and counseling for domestic violence. These types of preventative measures can only provide positive results for women with health insurance.

I can’t help but think about the millions of Americans without health insurance and the women who will not benefit from these services. Breast cancer is the 2nd most common cancer death in women after lung cancer. Over 200,000 women get diagnosed annually and 40,000 die. Early detection can reduce the chances of getting breast cancer and having preventative screenings included in the ACA can reduce the number of women dying due to breast cancer.

STI and HIV Counseling and Screenings

According to the Guttmacher institute, 19 million new sexully transmitted infections (STI) are reported annually and half of these are among 15-24- year olds. It is estimated that 65 million Americans have a viral STI, with the most common one being genital herpes and it is not curable. Most STIs have no symptoms and can be very hard to detect with a doctor’s visit and many people have no idea they are infected with an STI. Some of these STIs, when left untreated, can lead to more serious illnesses such as pelvic inflammatory disease and cervical cancer. Having access to STI and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) counseling and screenings included in the ACA is extremely important.

In the United States, we have varied opinions on sex, but the reality is our population is not retarding in growth. Sex can be as basic a desire as water, food and oxygen for some Americans. Evidence based research has uncovered that many Americans, especially younger adults and adolescents, do not have access to the factual information about STIs and HIV. In our media, we constantly glorify sex and adolescents are exposed to several television programs that include casual sex with multiple partners.

However, comprehensive sexual health education is not a standard in our country’s public schools. The ACA includes education and information about STIs and HIV, but the hard part is getting people to go to the doctor for this information. With the ACA enacted, there is an opportunity to start encouraging Americans to get annual screenings and to obtain prevention care in order to educate themselves on these issues.

Domestic Violence

One in four women will experience some type of domestic violence in their lifetime, and it is estimated that one-third of female homicide victims that police records have reports of are killed by their intimate partner. This is unbelievable and unacceptable to me. Domestic violence, rape, and sexual violence need to be brought to the forefront of Americans minds. This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed and I believe should be taught in schools along with sexual health information. The fact that the ACA covers screenings and counseling is incredible and this needs to be known. Women may not even know that their health insurance covers these types of things.

Family Planning

This brings me back to the ACA exemptions where certain employers are not required to provide contraceptive counseling and prescriptions. If employers, even those with religious beliefs do not support contraception, want a diverse body of people to be employed at their organization, they need to provide diverse healthcare plans that not only include basic health care, but specific healthcare pertaining to women including contraceptive coverage. It is estimated that nearly 99% of all women have used some sort of contraceptive method in this country.

Birth control can prevent unplanned pregnancies and abortions which saves our country money. Not all women want kids, so having these options are vital to their healthcare plans. Overpopulation is our number one social problem in this country, and it leads to many other issues including water shortages, food shortages and a large population of children being placed into foster homes or adoption agencies because of unplanned pregnancies. Having birth control be easily available and affordable will go a long ways toward prevention.

Income Inequality

Additionally, we must touch on is the gap between the rich and poor and how hard it is for millions of Americans to even obtain affordable health insurance. The ACA is a large step towards providing healthcare to the uninsured in our country, but it needs to be expanded further. It’s not perfect and many Americans are being caught in the Medicaid gap where they don’t make enough money to qualify for subsidy, yet they are in a State which refuses to expand Medicaid. If more Americans can received annual checkups and screenings, many may be able to identify and access preventive care to prolong life. Right now, it seems that the majority of Americans only go to the doctor when it is an emergency which needs to change.

Preventative healthcare is one of our country’s solution to address our nation’s growing healthcare problems. Hopefully, the ACA will lead to more systematic healthcare reforms in order to change the ways our country handles health issues and social problems. Feel free to share this with organizations that work with adolescents, schools, sexual health clinics, etc.. BeYouBeHealthy.org 

Conceived from Rape: Miss Pennsylvania’s Story Through a Social Work Lens

In a recent interview with Today.com, Miss Pennsylvania, Valerie Gatto, spoke candidly of her conception from rape. According to Gatto’s biography, her then ninteen-year-old mother was raped at knife-point walking home from work.  Gatto’s mother intended to place her for adoption, feeling as though a “traditional family” could better care for her. Her family intervened and helped Gatto’s mother raise her. The beauty contestant desires to use her campaign as Miss Pennsylvania and as a Miss USA hopeful to spread awareness about sexual assault.

Valerie Gatto
Valerie Gatto

Gatto’s campaign has come under fire for its methodology. She is quoted encouraging women to avoid rape by being “present, to be aware of your surroundings.” Through a feminist and social work lens, this is immediately concerning. I won’t lie; I am a brown belt in karate and cross-trained in ground fighting–in part because being a woman makes me a target for violence. Regardless, national anti-violence campaigns should avoid at all costs implying women can and should prevent their own rapes when it is rapists who need to stop raping.

Embedded in Gatto’s public narrative and perhaps less apparent but incredibly important are implications for serving individuals conceived from rape. As a person conceived from rape who is connected to a broader community affected by this issue, I can attest to the prevalent societal gaps in a respectful and understanding approach to these individuals and their mothers. Social workers are in an advantageous position to be allies and close these gaps.

Social work’s strive to see those in the margins and validate their humanity is vital here. Individuals conceived from rape are commonly spoken of as though we do not exist. Perhaps this is what most compellingly draws me to Gattos’ narrative–she expects people to respectfully listen to her when respectful dialogue on this issue is not the media’s norm. Headlines broadcasting the abortion debate refer to us as “rape babies,” “children of rape,” or “children of rapists.”  I was mortified when “rape babies” became the source of a joke on The Daily Show. I cringe when those claiming to be “pro-choice” quickly abandon their resolve for unquestioned choice for women based on rape conception because it’s simply too easy to instead argue that being a mother to “rape baby” must be awful.

I once sat in a small diner on my lunch break when such a news feature flickered across the  TV adorning a bright orange stucco wall.  A lively abortion debate between patrons ensued as I stared at the ice floating in my diet soda.  “I don’t think women should get to have abortions” one man finally bellowed. “Unless it’s rape,” he clarified. “I mean, can you imagine what it is like to be one of those rape babies?” All at once I felt vulnerable–yet invisible.

Gatto’s mother “decided to raise Valerie with the help of God and her family” (source). It is difficult for people to imagine that individuals conceived from rape are loved or wanted by their families. When I reunited with my family of origin as an adult adoptee, friends and family were shocked that I was embraced and welcomed.  One friend said, “I am so glad she wanted to know you, considering the circumstances.”

As a social worker, valuing human relationships and approaching my work from a strengths perspective means I apply these principles to everyone and check my biases when I find myself coming to knee-jerk conclusions about someone’s family. I often remind people, I am a person; I am not what my biological father did.  Gatto’s narrative, my own, and those of many others I am privileged to know are an abrupt push-back to the deficit focused approach that we are nothing more “painful reminders” to families who cannot possibly love us.  Leaving our families unsupported, these assumptions pervade an unimaginable shame.

I regularly receive messages from biological and adoptive parents and from individuals conceived from rape, their children, and their spouses.  How can I tell my child the truth about her story without her feeling shame?…….My husband just found out about his conception; how can I help him deal with the shame he feels?……..Where are the support sources for victims and their children?–I can’t find any.  Shame is so isolating.

Gatto claims her mother would have placed her for adoption had her family not intervened and offered her support.  Here’s another bias that needs to be checked: adoption is not inevitable. Whether in Pro-Life or Pro-Choice circles, or debates between, rape conception is persistently spoken of as though there are only two choices: adoption or abortion. The bias that individuals conceived from rape can’t be loved by their families–that adoption is a way of getting rid of presumably  unwanted children–narrows choices women have to make about pregnancy and parenting.  Whether abortion, adoption, or parenting, survivors of rape are entitled to self-determination and support for their decision.

“Rape babies,” “painful reminders,” “rapist’s baby,” “unwanted”–what Gatto’s narrative reminds me of most is that we tell our stories best.  A few years ago, I discovered my own public narrative featured in a column of an Irish newspaper as a part of the contentious abortion debate in a country with a history of incredibly restrictive abortion policies. I was criticized for my stance on choice as someone who argues for women’s self-determination in health care and who maintains that my mother’s pregnancy choices, whatever they might have been, are none of my business.

When Gatto says she doesn’t share her story for self-promotion but to be an advocate for chance, I believe her. Regardless of how I feel about her approach to anti-violence advocacy, I have experienced and witnessed the shame disclosing conception from rape brings. This is not an easy story to tell.

When another columnist re-framed my story through a stereotypical lens, I was no longer the empowered woman I believed myself to be.  The columnist claimed I came to erroneous conclusions about my own story–that I failed to realize how lucky I was not to be aborted in order to be in the position of advocating for women. I ask you, which would you rather be: free to come to your own conclusions or treated as though your existence is shameful? When we do not honor individuals conceived from rape as the rightful narrators of their own life story, we miss out on everything we could know about supporting them.

Abortion in the Heartland: What’s the Solution

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The South Winds Women’s Center in Wichita, Kansas has been open since April of 2013, and they just celebrated their 1st year of being open. Opening the clinic was a long and difficult journey that took a lot of fundraising and hard work from the Trust Women Organization and their director Julie Burkhart. Burkhart worked with Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider, who was assassinated at his church in 2009.

wichita3n-1-webIn the first 7 months, they performed 650 abortions which is almost 100 a month, and a majority of those women were low-income living under the poverty line. To me this is proof that income and poverty have a major impact on reproductive justice. If they are performing almost 100 abortions in Wichita, KS a month, how many more do you think that are actually wanted? People come from states all over to get access to services. Kansas women have 1 choice in Wichita and a few are located in Kansas city, 200 miles away or a few in Oklahoma City, which is also 200 miles away.

Texas recently shut down a huge majority of their clinics. Now, the entire state relies on 5 clinics that provide abortion care. Of course the South Winds Women’s Center offers a whole lot more than just abortion, but once you say abortion, many people stop listening especially in Kansas. Trust Women and the South Winds Women’s Clinic do not necessarily share my views about everything I’m writing, but I wanted to offer an overview of the services we provide here in Wichita, KS.

So, I offer this question to all who are anti-abortion: What is your solution?

In states where the laws are harshest about sexual health education, the teen pregnancy rates are highest. This can not be a coincidence. There are many opinions about sex and very strong opinions on reproductive justice. However, we seem to have no problem profiting off porn and sexual advertisements. But, when it comes to talking to our youth about sex education with options other than abstinence, many people are against it.

It’s time to speak up about sex education and reproductive justice! If you truly want to decrease abortions, we need to get on board with comprehensive sexual health education and access to affordable reproductive health services. According recent studies, abortions have decreased and not it’s not due to the increased anti-choice legislature according to the Guttmacher Institute.

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